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Governor’s vaccination order buffeted by parental concerns

DALLAS (BP)–Texas Gov. Rick Perry is receiving mixed reviews over his executive order requiring elementary school-age girls to receive the Gardasil vaccine targeting a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.

The governor’s Feb. 2 order, bypassing the Texas legislature, rankled many who say it tramples parents’ rights and might encourage premarital sex.

The governor took a step that should have been weighed by the people’s elected representatives, the legislature, said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“I’m shocked that Rick Perry would do this, and without the approval of the state’s legislature,” Land said Feb. 3 during his weekly “Richard Land Live!” radio program. Perry, a conservative Christian, opposes abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

With the start of the 2008-09 school year, girls entering the sixth grade in Texas will be required to receive Gardasil, a vaccine produced by Merck & Company and approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration in June 2006. The vaccine protects patients from certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. Some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

Texas currently requires students to receive inoculations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Like most states, Texas allows parents to opt out of the requirement to have their daughter vaccinated with the anti-HPV drug, or any other inoculation, if they have religious or philosophical objections.

Land indicated it is a difficult issue. “While I certainly disapprove of premarital sex, and I don’t want the government to do anything that would encourage that kind of behavior, I don’t want premarital sexual intercourse to be a death sentence,” he said.

Perry, in a Feb. 5 statement, said, “Providing the HPV vaccine doesn’t promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use,” according to the Dallas Morning News. “If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?”

The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 10,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2006 and approximately 4,000 died from the disease.

HPV also is a suspect in invasive oral cancers.

Land admitted he and his wife would have to seriously ponder the advisability of allowing their daughters to receive the vaccine if they were younger.

“If my daughter makes a wrong decision, if I can somehow protect her from that becoming a death sentence, then I would sit down with my wife and talk about it,” Land said. Yet he noted that ages 11-12 seem “awfully young” to be taking the vaccine.

Wondering aloud if children in Texas will be able to get the vaccine without their parents’ knowledge, Land expressed concern over anything that comes between children and their parents.

“The idea that a governor is going to require this for a whole state even with a parental opt-out seems to me to seriously endanger the parent-child bond,” said Land, calling the governor’s order an “unwarranted intrusion by the governor into a role parents should play in these choices.”

Land said he would be more comfortable with the governor’s decision if the vaccinations were offered free with parental involvement.

A spokesman for Concerned Women for America said Perry’s decision “forces little girls to be shot with a sex virus vaccine” and is an “outrageous assault on girls and their parents.”

At least 18 states are considering legislation to require the Gardasil vaccine for school-age girls. Michigan rejected similar legislation in January. The typical cost for the three-shot series is $360.

Perry insisted the program is no different than the massive federal government campaign that provided inoculations against polio for all schoolchildren in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I look at this no different than vaccinating our children for polio,” the governor said. “If there are diseases in our society that are going to cost us large amounts of money, it just makes good economic sense, not to mention the health and well-being of these individuals, to have those vaccines available.”

The governor’s action has prompted some to suggest he was listening to special interests and not the state’s citizenry.

According to a Chicago Tribune report, pharmaceutical company Merck is pouring large amounts of cash into a nationwide effort to convince state legislatures to include Gardasil as one of the many vaccinations schoolchildren must have. The newspaper noted that one of Merck’s lobbyists in Texas is the governor’s former chief of staff.

“This has a certain odor to it that is not pleasant,” Land said.

The governor’s press secretary suggested that while the governor was not bowing to pressure from Merck, he probably felt some pressure from the state’s first lady, Anita Perry, whom the Dallas Morning News said was a nurse and a “robust spokeswoman for women’s health issues.”

Several Republican lawmakers in Texas planned to file legislation overruling the governor’s order; one legislator said she planned to ask the state’s attorney general if Perry’s decision is legal.

Merck’s name has been in the news for uncertainty surrounding some of its products. The company voluntarily recalled its arthritis medication Vioxx after widespread reports of patients suffering serious heart problems while taking the drug. Concerns also are being raised over Merck’s medication Fosamox designed to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings