Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's going on with Texas and cervical cancer? (paca)

I have two or three regular readers who live in Texas, so can any of you inform me as to what's going on with the school requirement to have 6th grade girls vaccinated against cervical cancer and HPV? This is the Yahoo AP report.

As I understand, there is a sexually-transmitted disease, the HPV virus, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Supposedly, 1 in 4 U.S. women carries some strain of the virus, which is a quite large number. However, I just did some Wikipedia reading and the percent of strains that the vaccine actually prevents is under 5%, 3.4% to be exact. Number crunching time: There are 20,000,000 people in Texas roughly, so I will assume that 10,000,000 are women. This means that 2.5 million women in Texas carry some strain of HPV. The good news is that most HPV strains are largely harmless, having no effect or easily destroyed by the immune system or causing a harmless wart. However, if you just take 3.4% of women who have the strains which the vaccine affects, you still end up with 340,000 women with the approriate strains. And if half of those are the cancer causing variety, you get 170,000 women who are at high risk for cervical cancer, in Texas alone, who this vaccine can help.

Anyway, last year a vaccine against many strains of HPV became licensed by the FDA. In response, the governor of Texas - that radical left winger, I'm assuming, since this is Texas - issued an order adding the vaccine to the school requirements for 6th grade girls. So far, so good.

But apparently, the Texas legislature is fighting this tooth and nail, and they have overwhelming support to kill the requirement. The House of Reps version of the bill passed 118-23, which is 82% in favor of removing the requirement. So what's going on?

I can think of some good reasons to oppose the requirement:

1) You think the vaccine is too new and therefore might be unsafe. Hopefully, you have some evidence of this, but it's a legitimate concern.
2) You don't think the government should be involved in a family's medical decisions at all. I get this point of view, too. However, the state already has vaccination requirements for things like measles, mumps, rubella, etc. And the reason that states have a legitimate interest in this is because the diseases are environmentally transmittable. Simply by attending school with one of these diseases, you are putting other children at risk. I guess the question is then, does a sexually transmitted disease fall into this category or not? This is a very similar issue as when I earlier discussed whether or not having children is a true choice. In some ways, I think it doesn't matter though. I wasn't able to find any decent looking estimates of teen rates of sexual activity. The wikipedia article is clearly written with a huge bias, so I will use a ballpark figure of 33%. Unless you have a way to drop that number drastically in the next few months, the decision to not require the vaccine is going to immediately affect a large number of girls. I tried to dig up the number of students in the Texas school system, but Wikipedia went down. If you guess that 20% of the females in Texas are grades 6 - 12 and assume infection rates as above, you have... 11,220 girls in Texas that this vaccine could help right now.

So what alarmed be about the article was the money quote: "Gov. Rick Perry's executive order has inflamed conservatives who say it contradicts Texas' abstinence-only sexual education policies and intrudes into family lives."

Ahhhh! That's what it's about. Of course, it is. Texas parents don't want their girls having sex. I get that. I'm a pretty traditional guy and if I ever have a daughter, I'm going to have a hard time making my head control my gut reaction when she gets to these ages. But not only do they not want their children to have success, they want the penalty for messing up to be, not just higher risk of pregnancy, but even a decent chance of cervical cancer. The vaccine provides a method to help prevent 11,220 girls from catching the virus which could eventually kill them or at least cause significant damage to their reproductive system right now. But Texas is going to keep those girls at risk, because reducing the risk of cancer... might make children have more sex?

So, Texas residents, what's actually going on? Is it all just about the old "teens should never have sex and we don't care if they die as a result of screwing up, we are going to stick to our principles"?

It should of course be mentioned that the Texas legislature is not banning the vaccine. They are making it strictly voluntary. But the reason the governor put the rule in is that the best guess was that only 25% of girls would get the vaccine if voluntary.

By the way, New Mexico and Virginia have already put the requirement in place or plan to soon.



bunnygirl said...

It's no mystery. Texas is a Bible-belt state ruled mostly by conservatives with Jesus bumper stickers on their SUVs.

My parents were completely mystified when I moved to the gay/hippy/liberal core of Houston at 19. No great mystery to that, either. :-)

I don't identify with hard-core liberals any more than I do hard-core conservatives, but at least the liberals around here will leave you in peace to do your own thing.

writtenwyrdd said...

Just me being cynical, but prob'ly the armies of the righteous feel that takign this lame-ass action is going to make them look good and socially and morally upright (or is that uprightous,lol?) Also, maybe it's making some shareholder who's a big name Texan some money selling the drug? Just a thought...

Sammy Jankis said...

I'm not in Texas, but everything I've seen in the media centers on lawmakers feeling that giving this vaccine will make girls sexually active. It's absolutely ludicrous. The only thing a 6th grader is going to know is that they got an HPV vaccine. How many kids actually worry or inform themselves about vaccines outside of "Do I really have to get a shot"? This is just more conservative groupthink that is guiding ill-advised actions.