Monday, September 12, 2011

Dangerous Conservatism:
How Vaccine Denialism Harms our Children

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is an editorial, not a factcheck. This blog is dedicated to factchecking, but some topics are better addressed on ideological rather than factual grounds.

At the NBC-Politico debate, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum each attacked Rick Perry for issuing an executive order that required all girls entering the 6th grade to receive a vaccine that prevents the Human Papilloma Virus. This executive order allowed parents to opt-out based on religious or philosophical reasons. This decision has been attacked for three reasons, for concerns about the vaccines’ safety, concerns that it might encourage adolescent sexual promiscuity, and concerns that it infringed on parental rights. In this article I will destroy each of these arguments.

Concerns about the safety of the vaccine is ironic; in the past, conservatives have attacked the FDA for having too restrictive standards on safety and not allowing drugs onto the market that are being used in Europe. The FDA has extensively tested these drugs before authorizing their use and continues to monitor them for safety. The following quote comes from a Center for Disease Control webpage about the HPV vaccine.

FDA has licensed the vaccines as safe and effective. Both vaccines were tested in thousands of people around the world. These studies showed no serious side effects. Common, mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever, headache, and nausea. As with all vaccines, CDC and FDA continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines very carefully.

The second charge against Perry’s executive order is that it garners a false sense of security in teenagers and thus encourages them to be sexually active. Because, as we all know, the primary factor that determines whether a teen decides to have sex is whether they have been inoculated for HPV.

Meanwhile, back in reality, all honest observers realize that sex is a biological drive which is heavily influenced by the emotional relationship between partners.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the majority of our kids are having sex. A 2002 CDC study found that 58% of 18 year old girls and 54.3% of 18 year old boys had lost their virginity. By age 19 those numbers increase to 70.1% for girls and 65.2% for boys (see table 3). Despite our best wishes (mine included) to the contrary, our children are having sex. Shouldn’t we want them to be safe when they do?

Suppose we had a vaccine for AIDS, a devastating disease that slowly kills its victim in a slow, painful death. If we had such a vaccine, why wouldn’t we give it to our kids? Would it make any sense to deny it to them because it might make sex less dangerous? If this is our way to keep our kids abstinent, why not unleash a super-STD in order to discourage underage sex?  If these scenarios seem bizarre, then why would denying kids access to a vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer be any different?

Some may protest the early age that girls would be given a vaccine to prevent an STD. But from the same study cited above, 5.7% of girls and 7.9% of boys 14 years old have had sex. If we want the treatment to be effective, it must be given before the youngest group to lose their virginity begins to have sex.

This finally brings us to the third argument, which was the one brought up during the debate. Opponents argue that this is a matter of parental rights and that the government shouldn’t tell parents what vaccines their children should have to take. This would create a government so small that it would allow parents to deny their children access to a potentially life-saving medicine. If this vaccine was an opt-in system as Senator Santorum suggested, many parents wouldn’t get around to it. Even worse, when given the choice, parents often make health decisions for their children based on junk science and internet conspiracy theories.

I suppose you have to have an opt-out for parents who oppose the practice on religious grounds, lest they remove their children from public schools entirely. But the parent who sees the potential death of their child as god taking their son or daughter to join him in heaven is doing their child a grave disservice. They may be denying their child a treatment that could prolong their time on earth. By extension it also puts others at risk of catching a previously extinct disease. As ridiculous as this religious stance may seem, I know some who have adopted it.

Now that I have completely lost all of my conservative viewership, I conclude by reaffirming my support for Perry’s big government agenda to save the girls of Texas from a slow death by cervical cancer.

Here is full exchange from the NBC debate on this topic.

HARRIS: Thank you.

Congressman Paul, we've been talking just now about Governor Perry's rhetoric, but let's talk about his record.

Just this morning, your campaign put out a statement accusing him of pushing for bailout money, supporting welfare for illegal immigrants, and trying to forcibly vaccinate 12-year-old girls against sexually transmitted diseases.

He's your home state governor. Is he less conservative than meets the eye?

PAUL: Much more so, yes.

Just take the HPV. Forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, this is not good medicine, I do not believe. I think it's social misfit.

It's not good social policy. And therefore, I think this is very bad to do this. But one of the worst parts about that was the way it was done.

You know, the governorship in Texas traditionally is supposed to be a weak governorship. I didn't even know they could pass laws by writing an executive order. He did it with an executive order, passed it.

The state was furious, and the legislature, overwhelmingly, probably 90 percent -- I don't know exactly -- overwhelmingly repealed this. But I think it's the way it was passed, which was so bad.

I think it's a bad piece of legislation. But I don't like the idea of executive orders. I, as president, will not use the executive order to write laws.

HARRIS: Time. Thank you, Congressman.

Governor Perry, we'll get to you.

But, Congresswoman Bachmann, this is an issue you have also talked about, HPV.

BACHMANN: Well, what I'm very concerned about is the issue of parental rights. I think when it comes to dealing with children, it's the parents who need to make that decision. It is wrong for government, whether it's state or federal government, to impose on parents what they must do to inoculate their children. This is very serious, and I think that it's very important, again, that parents have the right.

Educational reform is another area. That's where I cut my teeth in politics, was being involved in educational reform, because the problem you see is one of framing.

It's the idea, should the federal government control these areas, or should parents and localities control these areas? We have the best results when we have the private sector and when we have the family involved. We have the worst results when the federal government gets involved, and especially by dictate to impose something like an inoculation on an innocent 12-year-old girl.

I would certainly oppose that.

HARRIS: Thank you.

Governor Perry, we've had candidates talking about you. Let's hear from you.

PERRY: I kind of feel like the pinata here at the party, so...

HARRIS: Welcome.

PERRY: But here's the facts of that issue. There was an opt-out in that piece of -- it wasn't legislation. It was an executive order.

I hate cancer. We passed a $3 billion cancer initiative that same legislative session of which we're trying to find over the next 10 years cures to cancers. Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. We wanted to bring that to the attention of these thousands of -- of -- of -- tens of thousands of young people in our state. We allowed for an opt-out.

I don't know what's more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out. There's a long list of diseases that cost our state and cost our country. It was on that list.

Now, did we handle it right? Should we have talked to the legislature first before we did it? Probably so. But at the end of the day, I will always err on the side of saving lives.


HARRIS: Senator Santorum, one final note on this book, "Fed Up." Governor Perry says in his book that it was, quote, "unprincipled" for Republicans to vote in favor of creating the Department of Homeland Security. You were one of those Republicans who voted yes. Respond.

SANTORUM: We created the Department of Homeland Security because there was a complete mess in the internal -- in protecting our country. We had all sorts of agencies that had conflicting authority. We had no information sharing that was going on. This was right after 9/11. We saw the problems created as a result of 9/11. And we put together a plan to try to make sure that there was better coordination.

I want to get back to this Gardasil issue. You know, we have -- Governor Perry's out there and -- and claiming about state's rights and state's rights. How about parental rights being more important than state's rights? How about having, instead of an opt-out, an opt- in?

If you really cared, you could make the case, instead of forcing me, as a parent -- and I have seven children, too, the wide receivers here have -- have -- on the ends here have -- have -- have seven children each -- but I am offended that -- that the government would tell me -- and by an executive order, without even going through the process of letting the people have any kind of input. I would expect this from President Obama; I would not expect this from someone who's calling himself a conservative governor.


Governor Romney, you've been listening to this exchange. Who's got the better end of it?

ROMNEY: You know, I believe in parental rights and parental responsibility for our kids. My guess is that Governor Perry would like to do it a different way second time through. We've each get -- we've each taken a mulligan or two. And -- and my guess is that that's something you'd probably do a little differently the second time. He just said he'd rather do it through legislation second time through.

And I recognize he wanted very badly to provide better health care to his kids and to prevent the spread of cancer. I agree with -- with those who said he went about it in the wrong way, but I think his heart was in the right place.

Right now, we have people who on this stage care very deeply about this country. We love America. America is in crisis. We have some differences between us, but we agree that this president's got to go. This president is a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again.

Originally Posted September 12, 2011

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