Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Don’t Mess With Texas

I have not, over say the last 6 years, looked fondly upon the state of Texas. Then came the announcement that Gov. Rick Perry had signed an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV, the virus found to cause cervical cancer. That struck me as downright enlightened. Hooray for Texas.

Now Perry is under attack and opponents of the order want to have it rescinded. Because, the thinking goes, once little 12-year-old girls are no longer afraid of contracting HPV (which is transmitted through, stop reading if you’re squeamish, genital contact) then they will start having sex with wild abandon. Boo for Texas.

Fear of HPV is not stopping kids from having sex. Heck, fear of pregnancy doesn’t do the trick either.

Let me boil this argument down to its most basic question: Are we more worried about young women in this country having sex than we are about them dying?

Each year, 10,000 women in America are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 die from the disease. HPV causes 70% of those cases. This ought to be a no-brainer.

Imagine if we were talking about a vaccine for breast cancer. Parents would be lining up around the block to save their daughters from a potentially fatal disease. And that should be the bottom line.

Cancer is a frightening word. I hope never to hear it as a diagnosis for myself or anyone I love. For decades, we have pushed the medical and scientific communities to develop better treatments and identify cures for this killer. They did their job.

Trouble is, Perry’s opponents don’t think it’s his job to mandate the vaccine for Texas tweens. They think the decision should be left up to parents.

So do we leave it up to parents to decide whether to use an infant car seat or not? Whether fluoride in water is a good thing? Whether their kids should be allowed to obtain a driver’s license at the age of 10? Do we trust parents, in the case of the HPV vaccine, to view this as a health issue, not an opportunity to take a moral stance?

Perry’s executive order would ensure that all the young women in his state receive a potential lifesaving vaccine—not just the daughters of liberal Democrats.

To the anti-vaccine crowd, I pose this scenario: One day your little girl is all grown up. She’s 33 years old, married, has two small children. And she’s just been handed a death sentence. Cervical cancer. That could have been prevented, but you wouldn’t allow it.

So you lose a daughter, her husband loses a spouse. Her children get to grow up without a mother. Hey, but at least you can take comfort in your ignorant, self-righteous convictions.


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