Topic: Society

Texas Governor Rick Perry

Defying a bizarre obsession of some powerful conservatives in Texas and elsewhere, Texas Governor Rick Perry earned an Ethics Hero award for February by bucking his usual constituency and making Texas the first state to require girls to get a new vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. “Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs,” Perry said in a news release explaining his executive order.

Well said. Anti-vaccine activists, led by Phyllis Schafly’s neolithic Eagle Forum but also bolstered by various conservative columnists and talk-show hosts, have issued hysterical condemnations of the vaccine program, often making it sound like a latter day Tuskegee syphilis experiment rather than a breakthrough in the battle against cervical cancer. What’s their reasoning? There are several arguments:

  • Some Americans have always regarded mandatory government vaccination as a wrongful invasion of personal rights. They feel the same way about fluoridated water. The fact that vaccines have largely eradicated many infectious diseases and saved millions of lives world-wide mark this as misapplied absolutism. Your right to avoid medical treatment doesn’t give you the right to make me or my family sick. Mandatory vaccinations guarantee that insurance will pay for the treatment, and greatly reduce health disparities in minority racial and ethnic populations. They are an excellent example of well-executed utilitarianism.
  • There are legitimate concerns about the small minority of vaccine recipients who have bad reactions to the shots, and some believe that childhood vaccinations are responsible for the increased incidence of autism. But the HPV vaccination is to be given to 11 to 13 year olds, so even if the autism link was proven (and it isn’t), it wouldn’t be relevant. The tiny percentage of tragedies related to vaccinations is dwarfed by the tragedies prevented by them. Living in a symbiotic society involves accepting reasonable risks, and getting vaccinated is one of them.
  • Sad to say, many conservatives appear to like the existence of deadly sexually transmitted diseases because they can be useful in frightening teenagers out of pre-marital and promiscuous sex. Thus they argue that the vaccine, which has been proven to be extremely effective against the HPV responsible for about 70% of all cases of cervical cancer, will somehow encourage sexual promiscuity. It shouldn’t be necessary to make the case that leaving one’s child vulnerable to a fatal disease is not a rational or defensible means of ensuring responsible sexual activity. But for the benefit of anyone who thinks this way, the Scoreboard will point out that this makes as much sense as parents opposing the reduction of violent crime in their neighborhoods because it could make their children more likely to sneak out of the house after dark. As much sense, as in none whatsoever. Parents who want to expose their children to cervical cancer to compensate for their own inability to teach and persuade them should have no voice in this controversy.
  • Opponents of mandatory vaccination are also claiming that the massive lobbying effort by Merck, maker of the vaccine, suggests that the program is motivated by cash rather than health concerns. The argument is intellectually dishonest. The fact that a promotional campaign to educate the public about a new method of disease control happens to serve a company’s business interests does not make the vaccine any less effective or mandatory vaccination worse public policy. Of course Merck will make money from the mandatory program, and it deserves to do so: it developed the vaccine. The impetus for the vaccination program has not come solely or even primarily from Merck. More than anything else, it has been spurred by the research results and the excitement of finally having a vaccine to eradicate a common form of cancer.

The American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices all recommend that girls get the HPV vaccine. The Scoreboard salutes Governor Perry for heeding their expert opinion and disregarding the objections of many of his political supporters, who on this issue are playing ideological games with children’s lives.

Comment on this article


Business & Commercial
Sports & Entertainment
Government & Politics
Science & Technology
Professions & Institutions

The Ethics Scoreboard, ProEthics, Ltd., 2707 Westminster Place, Alexandria, VA 22305
Telephone: 703-548-5229    E-mail: ProEthics President

© 2007 Jack Marshall & ProEthics, Ltd     Disclaimers, Permissions & Legal Stuff    Content & Corrections Policy