In the CNN/Tea Party Express GOP presidential debate Texas Governor Rick Perry was pummeled for his executive order vaccinating girls against HPV. In explaining his executive order, Perry said he “would always err on the side of life.”
HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is a common sexually transmitted disease and the vaccine is marketed as protection against cervical cancer. Almost 20 million Americans are infected with it. Merck, the makers of Gardasil, and the CDC recommend that girls as young as 9 years old receive the vaccine.
Governor Perry did err but not on the side of life. At that time, Gardasil had been linked to 32 unconfirmed deaths.
Perry erred in interposing government’s judgment for that of parents. He is richly deserving of the criticism he has received.
As an Assemblyman, I fought against implementation of a mandatory HPV vaccine policy for young girls (whether or not they are sexually active) in New York.
Bills mandating immunization of school-age girls as a prerequisite for school enrollment as well as legislation enabling minor girls to obtain the vaccine without parental consent, including allowing family planning agencies to administer the vaccine as part of an STD regime were introduced in 2007.
In 2009, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Liz Krueger sponsored legislation allowing minor children under the age of 18 to obtain the HPV vaccine without parental consent. While commending Paulin and Krueger for their efforts to prevent HPV infection, I argued that minor children are not able to make medical decisions for themselves.
Like many New Yorkers, I was not prepared to make parents irrelevant in healthcare decisions involving their daughters. While HPV infection and the threat of cervical cancer are reasons for concern, parents should not be removed from such decisions. It’s bad enough that they can obtain abortions without parental notification.
Unlike Governor Perry’s executive order and — in contrast to— the Paulin/Krueger bill, I countered with legislation encouraging voluntary, informed HPV vaccination for school-aged girls by their parents or guardians. Our measure encouraged parental involvement through the provision of written educational materials and medical consultation. Parents and guardians, not government, would decide if their daughter should receive the HPV vaccine.
Government should act to ensure that parents are actively included in their children’s health through informed and educated decision-making.
Until recently, no other vaccine has been pushed so quickly to be available for use in children. No other vaccine has had a shorter period of FDA review. And no commonly administered vaccine is more expensive.
Informed and involved parental consent is vital because the HPV vaccine has several known side effects including: severe allergic reactions, involving difficult breathing, wheezing, skin rash, itching or hives; plus diarrhea, nausea, pain at the injection site, fever, fainting, dizziness, swollen glands and joint pain.
The growing rate of infection for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in young girls is indeed alarming. While the HPV vaccine may be effective in preventing infection in a number of cases, the methods that our State uses to encourage distribution of this vaccine must be closely monitored.
Lawmakers are responsible for ensuring the safety of the people of New York State. But by forcing young girls to receive the HPV vaccine the Legislature would have knowingly put thousands of girls at risk.
Parents must be involved in the decision-making process and lawmakers must educate themselves on HPV vaccination.
Lawmakers must oppose laws that reduce parental responsibility or involvement in their children’s healthcare decisions. Families and parents have important roles to play in the lives of their children.
Government should encourage and support parents, not abet children in evading involvement with their parents.
Governor Perry should have known better than to try to substitute his judgment –especially in health care— for that of parents. And he has properly apologized.