The big fireworks in Monday’s debate were about Rick Perry mandating the HPV vaccine for girls in Texas. Bachmann basically accused him of taking a bribe, Perry admitted the policy was mistaken, lots of applause lines were had.
Did Perry make a mistake? There’s a lot to untangle on the HPV question, so I’ll break it down.
On a personal level, I’m very much in favor of the HPV vaccine. I intend to have Sal 11000 Beta inoculated when she gets to the right age as well as any other Betas that come along. This includes any boys, since I don’t want them catching or spreading the illness. The things mows down 4,000 women a year and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is growing evidence that HPV can be spread through saliva and cause throat cancer.
It’s critical to remember that: abstinence and being right with Jesus does not insulate you from HPV. It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and possibly by saliva. Half of Americans have it. Both partners could be virgins on their wedding night and still be exposed. This is not a disease that is confined to slutty women (as if that would matter anyway).
The vaccine itself is very effective and very safe, despite Bachmann’s claim that it left a girl “retarded”. With millions of doses given, it is showing few, if any, side effects. I’m unwilling to declare the vaccine perfectly safe until the first generation of girls start having children and show no ill effects. But … so far, so good.
Nothing I’ve said above is particularly controversial. One of the refreshing things about this issues is how quickly the entire Right Wing blogosphere sided against Bachmann, at least on the retardation issue. For the party that is supposed to hate science, I have seen very few entertaining the idea that this vaccine is unnecessary, unsafe or ineffective. A surprising fraction are familiar with Andrew Wakefield and his fraudulent research on the vaccine-autism link. It actually made me smile.
(One of the points debated — not in the actual debate, but on the blogs — is whether the HPV vaccine will make girls sleep around more. Count me in the “maybe a little, but not much” category. Try this thought experiment: what if all venereal diseases were eliminated? Would women suddenly sleep with everyone? I don’t think so. But I do think the lack of VD threat would make people in general less cautious. I’ll take that tradeoff — assuming it is a tradeoff.)
Where the debate really breaks down in on the mandate. And here — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — I’m with Bachmann and … Richard … John … Santorum. No, really. Here’s what Santorum said in the debate.
Why — ladies and gentlemen, why do we inoculate people with vaccines in public schools? Because we’re afraid of those diseases being communicable between people at school. And therefore, to protect the rest of the people at school, we have vaccinations to protect those children.
Exactly. Measles, mumps, rubella, polio — these can be spread by casual contact. HPV requires more intimate contact. Not necessarily sex, but skin-to-skin contact or kissing. To me, that’s enough to take a pass on the mandate. I might be willing to mandate it for sports that involve skin-to-skin contact — wrestling or football, for example. And I would be fine with the state strongly recommending it, giving information to parents and paying for poor people to get it if they are on Medicaid. The possibility of dramatically cutting the incidence of HPV and saving thousands of women’s lives is simply too beautiful to ignore.
But on the mandate, I’m with … those guys.
Now, did Rick Perry mandate this because of a $5,000 donation to his campaign and the job it later gave to his Chief of Staff? While I thought as much at the time, I’m beginning to side more with Perry. That’s way too low a price for this kind of bribe. Merck has much better reasons to support Perry, such as the tort reform that limited Vioxx judgements and made Texas one of the least dangerous tort states.
So, in the end, I find myself agreeing with both sides. The vaccine should be used by everyone, should not be mandated, but Perry wasn’t bribed. That’s kind of rare for me to not be bashing someone over the head.