The XX Factor

Don’t Rush Mandatory HPV Vaccination

Amanda, I disagree. If the majority of people don’t want their state governments to mandate HPV vaccines, then their state governments shouldn’t do it. I should say right off that I think kids–all kids, not just girls–should be vaccinated against HPV. It’s a safe vaccine and an important one. But at this stage of the game, adding it to a list of required vaccines it would be a mistake.

The federal government can’t “mandate” a vaccine anyway. A vaccine can be recommended by the CDC, and the HPV vaccine quite clearly is. Each state decides which vaccinations to require for children attending school in the state (only North Carolina requires that home-schooled children be vaccinated). All but two states allow religious exemptions for the required vaccinations and many states allow a “personal belief” exemption. So far, only Virginia and D.C. require the HPV vaccination. According to The National Review, 23 other states introduced legislation to require the vaccine, but it either did not pass, or was withdrawn. Right now, most people—however ill-informed their opinion might be—don’t want this vaccine to be mandatory. As Laura Bassett pointed out in the Huffington Post article you referenced, “not a single demographic—men, women, Democrats or Independents—would support the mandate.”

Vaccination is already in enough trouble. The number of parents “opting out” of vaccination altogether for their children is increasing in many places. Rushing the HPV vaccination onto the mandated list into that environment could easily result in more parents opting out of vaccination altogether at earlier ages in anticipation of the HPV vaccine. Historically, once a vaccine is recommended by the CDC, it still takes time for a mandate to settle into place across the country. The chicken pox vaccine was required in relatively few communities when it was first introduced in 1995; now, 45 states (including D.C.) require it. Acceptance was gradual. The HPV vaccine has only been around since 2007, and already, 35% of adolescents were vaccinated in 2010. That’s actually a remarkable statistic, and one that should be built on. But a push to “mandate” the vaccine in this climate cements opposition, and increases the risk that more and more parents will have already made their decision on behalf of their children before they even walk into the doctor’s office. 

Again, I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be vaccinated. For comparison, before widespread vaccination, chicken pox killed 100-150 people annually; HPV is said to kill 1 in 1000 people, albeit indirectly and not during childhood. There will come a time when the fact that we even had this debate is ludicrous. I suppose I’m not really disagreeing with your premise that the HPV vaccine should be mandatory, but with the idea that it should be mandatory now. Changes in public perception take time. As hard as it is, knowing that the clock is ticking on a cohort of middle-schoolers, I think we have to let that more gradual acceptance run its course.