Some guy who looks a lot like the Ken-doll governor of Texas issued an executive order on February 2 that will require all cowgirls, ’09 princesses, and mijitas to receive an HPV vaccine before beginning sixth grade, effective September 2008. Gardasil, the only HPV vaccine currently available, can protect innoculated women from the Human Papillomavirus strains responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer, a disease that kills 3,700 women in the U.S. annually.
Since the moment Executive Order RP65 made its debut, absolute inanity has reigned in hearts red and blue. Why the cross-aisle handwringing? Bizarro Perry, as this new decider might properly be called, took friends and foes alike by surprise, not only by taking a stand — a political sport he was previously not known to engage in — but by doing so at a Lone Star crossroads of sex and money. Most Texans would willingly trade their souls if it meant they didn’t have to examine these subjects in the cold, sober light of day. The ensuing panic has led to some hastily fabricated, tragically flawed objections.
From the bitter left: Bizarro Perry stole an issue that belongs to the Democrats, which was rude (Senator Leticia Van de Putte and Representative Jessica Farrar had already filed a bill that would essentially put Perry’s order on the books) and also undercut the legislature’s right to grandstand this hot-potato topic into the ground. Republican opponents have taken up this implicit invitation, filing companion bills that would prohibit the state from requiring the vaccine for schoolchildren.
From the uptight right: Bizarro Perry’s order usurps the right of parents to insist that their children sit out medical advances (remember: this is a state that largely believes flouridated water is poisonous). Worse, once they realize they’re protected from HPV, ’tweeners will start getting it on like bunny rabbits — assuming of course they’re not terrified of dying of breast cancer if they have an abortion (speculative information actually promulgated by the state).
Alarmed that a Republican governor has bolted dead center, GOPUSA has gone on the offensive, too, warning parents that the vaccine is opposed by the American College of Pediatricians — a fundamentalists-in-lab-coats operation whose mission statement reads in part: “… we recognize the basic father-mother family unit, within the context of marriage, to be the optimal setting for childhood development.”
From strange (and presumably unvaccinated) bedfellows: Bitter foes have united in pointing out that Gardasil’s maker, Merck, gave $6,000 to Perry during the last election cycle. (Current reporter Dave Maass says no, it was actually $16,000.) Clearly this is political payback.
If this last objection has you scratching your head, please remember, it’s not that Texans are averse to ethics, it’s just that we usually like to stick ’em where the sun don’t shine.
Which brings us back to all of the misguided critics. If Texas’s teenage birth rate (5th in the nation) is any indication, our girls were plenty promiscuous when HPV was AIDS’ unknown wallflower cousin and their biggest concern was an unplanned pregnancy. (Oh, right. That’s still the biggest concern, despite a decade of federally funded abstinence-only sex ed.) Meanwhile, the Kaiser Family Foundation confirms the governor’s argument: Texas ranks fifth in diagnoses and number two when it comes to deaths from cervical cancer, a disease that cuts across marital lines but, like most health issues, disproportionatly affects minority women. Nonetheless, if parents insist on using fear as a birth-control method, Perry’s order allows them to opt out of the vaccine for religious or moral reasons.
It’s also not true as some critics have suggested that there is no funding to make the vaccine available to girls in low-income families. The governor’s order requires the Department of State Health Services to provide Gardasil through the Texas Vaccines for Children program, which will receive enough HPV vaccine from the federal VFC program to innoculate young women who are uninsured or underinsured, covered by CHIP, of Native American or Native Alaskan heritage, or who qualify for Medicaid. Children whose insurance won’t cover the three-part immunization may also qualify for a reduced-cost vaccination through the TVFC program. Perry’s office estimates that the state will spend approximately $29 million out of general-revenue funds to implement the order — an amount that will be more than matched by the federal VFC’s contribution, says Steve Weems, VFC Project Officer for Texas and other Southwestern states.
But the lege may still write the last chapter on HPV prevention, whether in favor of women’s health, partisan payback, or Victorian-era morals. So take a moment to write or call your lawmakers and say, “Just this one time, I support Bizarro Perry (and Van de Putte’s bill).” Your future one-night-stands, ex-girlfriends, mothers, and life partners thank you.