WASHINGTON – Several conservative Christian groups have spoken out against controversial legislation being considered in many states that would make a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease mandatory for girls as young as 11 years of age.
The groups – which include two of the nation's largest conservative family groups (Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council) and the nation's largest public policy women's organization (Concerned Women for America) – have said that they are not against the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine itself but oppose mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry to public schools.
In particular, they raise concern that the HPV vaccine – which is marketed by the pharmaceutical company Merck under the name Gardasil – has not had a sufficient trial period for it to be mandatory for school-aged girls.
Linda Klepacki, an analyst for sexual health at Focus on the Family Action, renounces the mandating of the vaccine, comparing such course of action to performing a "public-health experiment." She says that government should not be forcing young girls to take part in it.
"This is by far the fastest move towards mandating a vaccine that we've ever had, and there's no reason to do that," said Klepacki, in a released statement.
"We need to see over time how effective it is, if booster shots are needed, what kind of side-effects we will see in a large population – so it could actually be detrimental to rush it."
The FOTF sexual health expert's caution was backed by the one of the principal developers of the drug.
"This vaccine should not be mandated for 11-year-old girls," said Dr. Diane Harper, who spent two decades developing the HPV vaccine, according FOTF's Citizenlink.com site. "It's not been tested in little girls for efficacy."
Harper, who is also the director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center at Dartmouth Medical School, said her trials of the vaccine only involved girls 15 to 25. Moreover, in her own practice she only recommends the shot to girls who are 18 years of age or older.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting some 20 million Americans with more than 6 million new cases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sexually transmitted disease (STD) is also the leading cause of cervical cancer but is also associated with oral cancer, cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, head and neck, and genital warts.
Some supporters of mandatory vaccinations claim a mandate is necessary to ensure access for poor families. However, Concerned Women for America refuted the argument pointing out that the federal Vaccines for Children program has sent over 1.3 million doses to different states for girls insured by Medicaid or state-subsidized children's health insurance.
"Solutions can be tailored for those who cannot afford it without requiring every little girl get it," said CWA president Wendy Wright, in a released statement.
Christian pro-family groups were also quick to point out that the vaccine should not be seen as a quick fix for the STD problem, but that education on abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage is the most effective way to combat HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"The seriousness of HPV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) underscores the significance of God's design for sexuality to human wellbeing," read FOTF's position statement on HPV. "Thus, Focus on the Family affirms – above any available health intervention – abstinence until marriage and faithfulness after marriage as the best and primary practice in preventing HPV and other STIs."
Family Research Council has also voiced opposition to mandating the vaccine. And, like the other organizations, the pro-family group said it supports widespread availability of the drug but wants to protect the rights of parents to be the primary decision maker in underage girls receiving the vaccination.
Currently, 26 states have considered legislation that would make HPV vaccination mandatory for school age girls.
"In the past two decades, the number of mandated vaccines for children has doubled," concluded CWA's Wright. "Also increased are cases of autism, asthma, diabetes and learning disabilities among children.
"It is unclear if there is a connection, but there is enough concern that another vaccine should not be mandated without further research," said the CWA president. "Parents know and care more about their children than government officials, so the decision should rest with them on whether to vaccinate their daughters for a disease that is caused by sexual contact."