Lawmakers Battle Over HPV Vaccine

Texas lawmakers are about to vote on a bill that would rescind a mandatory HPV vaccine order and also prohibit future mandates for such a vaccine. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, many in the medical community are concerned that the battle over mandatory vaccinations is distracting people from the science behind the drug.

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The firestorm in Texas began when Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring all girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against HPV, or human pappiloma virus, which is the only known cause of cervical cancer. Perry is dealing with backlash from members of his own party who appear poised to pass legislation that would override his vaccine mandate.

"I highly respect the legislative process that we have. And so I would respectfully tell you that we will let it play its way out, as we do with a host of different issues and again I hope people will get focused on saving people's lives."

The governor's move sparked a debate over the role of government in setting public health policy versus the role of a parent in deciding when and how to protect a child against a virus that is only spread through sexual contact. Dr. Desiree Evans treats patients at the Texas Children's Pediatric Associated Clinic. Evans says she often counsels parents on whether to vaccinate their daughters against HPV.

"You can't separate it from like chicken pox and everything else, because remember this is just about protecting your child. Just like Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, nobody ever separates that out. You know, we don't worry when we give that to a one-day-old or a two-day-old. We just know that regardless, we're protecting our children."

HPV is present in virtually all cervical cancers. Dr. Maurie Markman, the vice president of cancer research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center says people are missing the point. He says it doesn't matter at what age a girl becomes sexually active. What matters is that when she does so, whether young or old, married or not, she'll be protected against one of the most common forms of women's cancers.

"This is a cancer prevention vaccine, nothing more, nothing less. The goal here is to prevent cancer."

Markman is quick to point out he's not a policy-maker nor an epidemiologist. All he can speak to is the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. And from his position, he just wants to see cancer go away.

"I'm a medical oncologist that takes care of women with female pelvic cancers. If I never see a case of cervix cancer again, I can't tell you how happy I will be."

The HPV vaccine, called Gardasil, is manufactured by Merck and is administered through a series of three injections. GlaxoSmithKline is also working on a version of the vaccine. That drug is still in clinical trials. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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