Rick Perry and the HPV debacle
posted at 8:20 pm on August 15, 2011 by Jazz Shaw
If the first casualty of war is truth, the first casualty of politics is common sense. The nascent battle for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is no exception, and has already managed to find a way to drive me to distraction. It all started with Ed Morrissey’s report of questions put to presidential candidate Rick Perry over a 2007 mandate he issued as Texas governor for young girls to be vaccinated against the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus (HPV.)
In Texas this caused a kerfuffle leading to Perry backing down on the issue, and now it seems that “conservative-minded” activists want to make sure that he’s learned his lesson about government sticking its nose into affairs of the family. Unfortunately, the greatest likelihood in this case is that politics has once again managed to turn partisan absolutism into a socially suicidal death spiral. And it’s not just socially conservative Republicans either. The Libertarians are up in arms as well, as I found out when I wound up in an extensive debate on the subject with libertarian leaning Doug Mataconis from Outside the Beltway. (Who expands upon the subject here.)
There are a number of obvious and important questions to deal with when a subject like this comes up. If people are objecting because the vaccine is dangerous or not needed, this is clearly a problem. In that case, the vaccine should be pulled from the shelves, fixed to make it safe or scrapped entirely. But Gardasil – the brand name of the vaccine in question – has now been tested in thousands of children and remains, according to the FDA, “as safe as any other vaccine.”
So what was the major objection to Perry’s order? As I suspected, it came down to politics rather than science in all the cases I found. In particular, HPV was noted to be a “sexually transmitted” disorder, which unfortunately draws some of the worst brand of politics into the mix before you can say boo. In some of the most extreme cases I ran into (with close personal friends, no less) there were soft whispers about how a vaccine against HPV would, “encourage or excuse promiscuity among our young women.” Ed Morrissey took a barely less direct approach, seeming to favorably link to an explanation from Joshua Mercer at Catholic Vote.
Obviously Merck wants to make a lot of money by making all of our daughters get the $120 shots. And I understand that sexually transmitted diseases have become a pandemic, one that we don’t talk enough about.
But if we force every daughter to get Gardasil, we have lost hope in the ability of our children to say no to hazardous premarital sex.
In effect, the very decision to give your daughter Gardasil tells your daughter: “I know you can’t say no.” This gives her the green light. She’ll think: “After all, Mom and Dad think I’m having sex anyway.”
When I hear arguments like this I can’t help but wonder if I’m about to step off of the last flight of the space shuttle program only to find that the entire ground crew is composed of talking apes handing out posters of the Statue of Liberty buried up to her neck in sand. Are you kidding me?
Did you miss the part where I mentioned that HPV causes cervical cancer? It’s also now definitively linked to a number of other less commonly occurring cancers, some of which affect boys as well. That’s why the FDA approved the drug for boys in 2010.
And oh, by the way, while far more rare, it’s already been determined that the virus might be spread in methods other than sexual contact. This is reminiscent of some of the early responses to HIV and how it was the “gay plague.” I don’t think that was of much comfort to the first heterosexual guy who caught it from a blood transfusion after he got into a car accident.
Others have attempted to raise arguments about whether or not it is the proper place of government at any level to order parents to get their children vaccinated. Again, this battle has already been repeatedly fought and, thankfully, lost. All the states have school immunization laws for children which have been challenged in the courts and repeatedly upheld. Even if the federal government were to enact something like this, a possible precedent for such power exists, as Washington has long mandated immunization rules for immigrants coming to live in the United States.
But all of the technical details pale in comparison to what I see as the major madness in this discussion. I’ve lost count already of how many times I’ve already brought this up in this column, but we’re talking about C*A*N*C*E*R here. We’ve been working on this for years and finally somebody came up with a way to stop at least the next generation of people from getting one version of it which affects, on average, more than 12,000 women in the United States each year and kills more than 4,000 of them.
And we can stop it.
And you’re arguing about politics and getting upset because the Governor of Texas, in a “moment of weakness,” tried to do something about it. And some of you managed to get him to back down.
Roughly half the adult men in this country and nearly 80% of the adult women have or will have the HPV virus by the age of fifty. The men will almost never exhibit any symptoms and may never even know they have it. Not everyone has to be tested for it in every state, even when they get married. Your little girl – no matter how studiously you work to make sure she is virginal on her wedding night – could wind up marrying a man carrying it, catch it, and die of cancer. And it could have been stopped.
Shockingly, a few of you, (such as my friend Doug) are saying that cervical cancer is “not a public health threat.” Or perhaps it’s “not as communicable as smallpox.” I don’t know what to say to these people. Not a public health threat? It’s CANCER. Not communicable? Then why does roughly 3/4 of the population carry it, most without knowing it? The odds are that a majority of you reading this have HPV right now. You might want to get checked.
Though most of you will now scoff, I believe in small government conservatism. I dislike the massive growth of government and the corresponding overreach of power and endangerment of civil liberties. But in a case like this I will gladly take my place among the brown-shirts. If the vaccine is proven safe and effective, as the reports I’m seeing indicate, then I want the government to make sure every young girl gets it. HPV is transmitted primarily – though not always – through sex, and the vast majority of those young girls are eventually going to have sex, even if only with their husbands. And the odds are too high that the husband in question might have it and not even know it.
A special message for those of you chanting, “well, it’s still optional. Any family can choose to have the vaccination, or a test. It’s just not the government’s job.” I envy you. You certainly have a refreshing, optimistic, and completely fictional faith in the intelligence, common sense and foresight of the entire population. I have no idea where you came by it. But every person who fails to exhibit that intelligence and foresight will be primed to keep unleashing more of the same out into the general public. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know you secured that freedom from the oppressive hand of the government for them.
Bottom line: Many years ago, with the power and enforcement of the government, we wiped out smallpox, a disease which was devastating the land. Today a method is in hand to wipe out at least one form of the greatest medical scourge we face today: cancer. For such a tool to be within reach of the government – on any level – and for them not to act would not be a failure or success of partisan politics or ideology. It would be a crime against humanity.
This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.