In reading various immunization related news this week, I was surprised to find at least a dozen or more articles still focusing on the political aspects of the HPV vaccine.
This time, rather than focusing on Michele Bachmann’s careless disregard for the vaccine, several articles were focusing on what may have been a significant motivator for Rick Perry’s decision to try to require the HPV vaccine for young Texas girls. Interestingly enough, the focus has turned to Perry’s own wife. As The New York Times describes, Anita Thigpen Perry is not only her husband’s “close confidante”, but a woman “with expertise in women’s health… a nurse, country doctor’s daughter, and career-long advocate for victims of sexual assault who has been a vocal proponent of immunizations”. I can’t say that I’m surprised. Nor am I offended. I think it’s only natural that Governor Perry may have been influenced by his wife’s personal experiences.
However, while Perry has come under fire for his attempt to mandate the HPV vaccine years ago, California Governor Jerry Brown is currently faced with another controversial bill that would allow minors, 12 and older, to receive prevention services for STDs without parental consent. Such services would therefore include the HPV vaccinations to protect against strains of Human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause cervical cancer.
In contemplating this measure, it’s important to note that children as young as 12 are already able to consent to diagnosis and treatment for STDs. As one doctor explains, “What this adds is them being able to receive prevention … which is obviously a very important part of health care.”
Last week, Michele Bachmann’s misinformed statements on the HPV vaccine illustrated just how much impact politicians can have on public health.
In a matter of hours, with the help of several major news sources, Bachmann was able to inject an irrational fear of the life-saving HPV vaccine based on the anecdotal evidence of “Some Lady I Just Met”. One week later, the complaint in The New York Times remains that Bachmann’s brief, but damaging comments, regarding the safety of the HPV vaccine, may have instilled so much doubt among parents and young women that there may be ripple effects in HPV vaccine uptake for years to come.
Interestingly enough, Bachmann began her complaint about the HPV vaccine in response to a concern about her political opponent Rick Perry. Back in 2007, the Texas Governor attempted
to use an executive order to mandate the anti-cancer HPV vaccine in Texas. There were plenty of critics at the time, many suggesting that the HPV vaccine would promote promiscuity among adolescent girls and others who did not agree with immunization mandates. Eventually, the legislative pressure forced Perry to rescind the order. However, even today, the Governor’s
decisions are stirring up a political debate. Last week in Tampa, Bachmann accused Perry of “crony capitalism,” suggesting that his efforts to mandate the vaccine were motivated by political funding from the vaccine manufacturer.
While it’s no longer surprising to see politicians accused of wrong doing – and it’s almost common place to witness political mud-slinging – it’s disappointing to witness public health practices, such as beneficial vaccines, being damaged in the crossfire of political debates.
However, in the week since the Tampa debate, as medical professionals speak out to correct Bachman’s irresponsible comments, we are also discovering that Rick Perry’s support of public health goes beyond accusations. Read more…