A second objection to routine HPV vaccination concerns parental rights. Bachmann confused this issue by introducing anti-vaccine paranoia — one of the most direct and practical ways that a public official can undermine the health of his or her fellow citizens. A more sophisticated version of this argument claims that a vaccine against measles or mumps is fundamentally different from a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease such as HPV. Because of the ethical context, parents should have more of a say.

But the public health case for vaccination is similar for diseases spread by coughing and those spread by sexual contact. Vaccines decrease the incidence of a disease in a whole society, which has good health outcomes for everyone, not only the protected individual. Consider a woman who is resolutely abstinent until her marriage at 24. Her husband — who got HPV from a girlfriend who was not vaccinated — unknowingly gives it to his wife on their wedding night, increasing her risk for cervical cancer. She would suffer because others are not vaccinated. The decision to vaccinate — for HPV or any infectious disease — is not just a personal, family choice. It is also a matter of public health. And it is not unreasonable for public authorities to strongly encourage responsible parental choices.