Gardasil - Warts and All. Controversies Heat-Up in California, Texas
By Mary Walsh SIECUS Program Research Intern
Gardasil, the vaccine to prevent Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), continues to ignite opposition around state-level mandates requiring its availability. When first introduced in 2006 following approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 1 opponents argued that Gardasil would promote teen sexual activity; this fear remains in some communities. Anti-vaccine groups also denounced Gardasil, exaggerating sporadic reports of side effects. 2
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a provision allowing females as young as 12 to obtain Gardasil without written parental permission. The new law raises questions about the role of school-based health centers. Los Angeles bishop José Gómez voiced the views of many opponents by condemning the measure as a "serious erosion of parental rights in California." Yet Cathy O’Connell Cahill, senior editor of U.S. Catholic, voiced support: "The vaccine is suggested for 12 year olds because, in fact, yes, a certain percentage of them will soon be sexually active, [but] the HPV vaccine protects even those young women who will not have sex until their wedding night! […]Are people seriously suggesting that parents should pass up the vaccine because they think their child will see it as some kind of permission to become sexually active?” 3
The 2012 presidential campaign has emboldened opponents of Gardasil, leading them to pressure office seekers into denouncing the vaccine. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has been criticized for signing a 2007 mandate (since repealed), that required HPV vaccination for girls entering sixth grade. Some Gardasil opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, have expressed suspicion that Perry’s original position on the vaccine was influenced by campaign contributions from its manufacturer, Merck & Co. 4 Vaccine supporters pointed out the contradiction in Perry’s stance, given his support for limited government and abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education. Sounding those very themes, Kyleen Wright of Texans for Life weighed-in on the news of Governor Brown’s decision in California: "Anytime the government wants to be a substitute for parents, then we have a problem."5
The Gardasil debate has implications for school-based health educators and clinicians. Since 2006, legislators in 41 states have introduced measures to require, fund, or educate about vaccination to protect against HPV. Initially, many measures proposed mandating the vaccine for school attendance; in recent years, possibly owing to backlash from the opposition, such provisions have been rarer. 6
1 U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Gardasil,” Last updated 11 October 2011, accessed 17 October 2011, <http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/ApprovedProducts/UCM094042>.
2 Hilary Hylton, “Anti-Vaccine Activists vs. Gardasil,” Time Magazine, 19 June 2008, accessed 17 October 2011, <http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1816507,00.html>.
3 Kelly Luttinen, “Parental Rights Seen as Heart of Controversy on HPV Vaccine,” Zenit.org, 13 October 2011, accessed 17 October 2011, <http://www.zenit.org/article-33662?l=english>.
4 Trip Gabriel and Denise Grady, “In Republican Race, Heated Battle over the HPV Vaccine,” The New York Times, 13 September 2011, accessed 17 October 2011, <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/politics/republican-candidates-battle-over-hpv-vaccine.html?_r=1&ref=us>.
5 Dawn Tongish, “California Plan to Allow Minors to Receive HPV Vaccine Without Parental Consent, Draws Ire in Texas,” The CW33 News, 10 October 2011, accessed 17 October 2011, <http://www.the33tv.com/news/kdaf-gardasil-with-no-parental-consent-story,0,1904517.story>.
6“HPV Vaccine: State Legislation and Statutes,” National Conference of State Legislatures web site, accessed 29 October 2011, <http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=14381>.