Scott MacKay Commentary: The Anti-HPV Vaccine Fallacy

Aug 21, 2015

Opponents of mandatory HPV vaccinations want the Rhode Island General Assembly to stop requiring the vaccines for all seventh graders. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay wonders if  politicians should be allowed to interfere in medical decisions.

Rhode Island has taken a unique step  to combat a sexually transmitted disease that is a leading cause of cervical cancer. This had led the state to require that seventh graders get vaccinated against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease that can morph into several types of cancer, most commonly cancer of the cervix.

This new state requirement has sparked a protest organized by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a conservative group that lobbies on behalf of small-government initiatives. Last week, the group held an anti-HPV vaccine rally featuring parents who believe their children have been made sick by the vaccine.

The center’s position is simple, perhaps deceptively so.  The group says parents should be able to make their own decision about whether to give their children the HPV vaccine.

Those against the mandatory vaccinations are also upset that the state health department added this requirement  without legislative approval. And they insist, against substantial evidence, that there is no major public health issue at stake.

Yet, facts are stubborn things. What they show is that HPV is the number one sexually transmitted disease in the country and it causes nearly 30,000 cases of cervical cancer each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most effective way to combat this illness is to immunize 11 and 12 year-olds. HPV can also cause penile and anal cancers and genital warts..

The protesters also assert that HPV  is not a communicable disease that is spread in a public school environment. But students must be immunized against other diseases that are not directly spread in schools, such as tetanus.

Some parents may think that having their children immunized will lead them to believe they can have sex without health repercussions.  Yet, a teenager with an HPV shot isn’t protected against pregnancy or other venereal diseases.

Rhode Island’s policy seems to be reasonable with regard to parental rights. Parents can exempt their children by asking for a religious exemption or by getting a medical pass from a family physician. So there are opt-outs for those with strong feelings on the issue.

So far, health officials have reported no serious  side effects linked to this vaccine. Seventy-nine million Americans have HPV, meaning that it is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease.

The freedom and prosperity center also points to Texas, where the legislature overturned an HPV  requirement in 2007. You might ask why we would model a children’s health care policy on Texas, a state with more than double the rate of children without health insurance, according to Kids Count Rhode Island.

Whether you like it or not, government has a role in defending the health and safety of Americans. Among the best examples: the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which cut water and air pollution. Does anyone argue rationally that we should go back to an era when Narragansett Bay was an open sewer? Or when smog in too many American cities was as thick as a morning fog in Newport harbor?

Government action eradicated the scourge of Polio.

Rhode Island has long been lampooned for being tops in the country on such dubious measures as political corruption and high unemployment. Isn’t it time we applauded our rank as the only state that requires both girls and boys to get vaccinated against HPV?

Scott MacKay’s political commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:40 and 8:40. You can also follow his political commentary and analysis at our `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org