Texas requires HPV vaccine

Times Staff Writer

Texas on Friday became the first state to require school-age girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that has been shown to cause cervical cancer.

Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order mandating that most girls, starting in September 2008, receive the vaccination against the human papillomavirus before entering sixth grade.

More than a dozen states, including California, have been considering such a move. HPV, which also causes genital warts, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country. Several strains have been linked to cervical cancer, which kills about 3,700 Americans a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration.


The federal government approved an HPV vaccine last year, and a government advisory panel has recommended that all girls get shots at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active. The socially conservative American College of Pediatricians has opposed any vaccination requirement as a “precedent-setting action that trespasses on the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children, as well as on the rights of the children to attend school.”

By sidestepping the Texas Legislature, Perry -- a conservative Republican -- avoided a showdown with GOP lawmakers and Christian organizations that oppose mandatory HPV vaccinations.

Perry defended his decision Friday, saying the vaccinations would save lives.

He promised that parents who did not want their children vaccinated “for reasons of conscience” would be allowed to seek exemptions.

The mandate would affect about 365,000 girls a year.

“The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer,” Perry said in a statement. “Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy.”

Public health advocates and liberal activists called Perry’s action a triumph of common sense over ideology.


“I’m surprised he took this step; it breaks with his [political] base,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes efforts to mix religion and government policy.

But the move drew criticism from conservative groups, which noted that the governor had accepted campaign contributions from the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck & Co.

“All Merck wanted was a mandate so the insurance companies would have to pay for this. Follow the money,” said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, an organization that promotes socially conservative government policies.

“This is telling girls that they can be promiscuous and still be safe,” she added.

Merck has been pushing for laws mandating its Gardasil vaccine in numerous states. It has also launched a TV ad campaign featuring girls and the slogan “One less,” to signify one fewer cancer patient for each person vaccinated.

The New Jersey-based drug company donated $6,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign last year, Texas campaign finance records show. One of its top Texas lobbyists, Mike Toomey, is Perry’s former chief of staff.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said the state would boost existing healthcare programs by $29.4 million a year to help poorer Texans pay for the vaccine, which costs more than $300 for a three-shot series.

Moody said that suggestions Perry approved the vaccines as a favor to political contributors were absurd -- and that suggestions the vaccination plan represented an endorsement of underage sex were even more so.

“That’s really a nonsensical argument,” Moody said. “This is not an issue of young girls having sex or not having sex. It’s an issue of saving lives with a simple vaccine.”