As the debates rage on among GOP presidential hopefuls, one particular issue has caught my attention. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has entered a particularly bitter battle with Gov. Rick Perry over his 2007 executive order requiring that all sixth-grade Texas girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a risk factor for developing cervical cancer.
Bachmann described Perry’s mandate as a “government injection through executive order” and a “violation of a liberty interest.” She also made comments suggesting that the vaccine could cause negative side effects such as mental retardation.
While Perry admitted the order was “a mistake,” he defended himself by saying it was also an attempt to save young girls’ lives by protecting them from cervical cancer.
I have to say, on this particular issue, I’m going to have to side with Perry. But I do want to add a few important clarifications.
First, the HPV vaccine is effective, but it does not prevent all cervical cancer nor does it protect against all strains of the HPV virus. It is merely meant to target the strains that have been strongly linked with cancer. These specific strains are thought to be responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases worldwide.
The vaccine, called Gardasil, is manufactured by Merck & Co. and is delivered in three separate doses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), since its introduction, it has been administered 35 million times, and to my knowledge, does not cause mental retardation.
However, unlike Perry, I don’t believe that the vaccine should be mandated by the government. I do think it is a good preventative strategy, and I haven’t seen any solid evidence to suggest it is unsafe, but I don’t believe HPV meets the same standards of other infectious diseases such as influenza or measles.
Technically, HPV is classified as a sexually transmitted disease, meaning it can only be passed through sexual contact. You can’t simply ride the subway and contract HPV from somebody sneezing on you, like the flu.
This is why, in terms of vaccine priority, I believe this one falls in the category where we should simply educate and encourage women to get the shots, rather than forcing them to be vaccinated. With a solid foundation of responsible sex education, people should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want the vaccine.
So to sum up my beliefs, educate, don’t mandate.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.