Campaign rivals, social conservatives and tea party activists questioned his Republican credentials for mandating that 11- to 12-year-old girls get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. They linked Perry’s 2007 executive order, quickly undone by the state legislature, to two potentially mortal conservative sins: early sex and government meddling.
Yet for all the heat the issue brought the presidential hopeful from his party’s base, HPV politics do not break neatly along conventional liberal-conservative fault lines — at least not in the two locales that followed Perry’s lead.
Conservatives may generally oppose the mandate as government intrusion into private health-care decisions and a green light for teen sex, because the virus is sexually transmitted. Liberals may welcome it as enlightened public-health policy.
But consider the conservative Republican Virginia state delegate, the one the National Abortion Rights Action League describes as “rabidly anti-choice,” who is a champion of the vaccine mandate.
Then there’s the D.C. Statehood Green Party member, so upset and suspicious that Big Pharma was pushing the vaccine without sufficient testing that he had to be escorted from a public meeting when the measure was approved.
There is the liberal-leaning Northern Virginia mother, who shops for organic produce at farmers markets and chose, under the state’s liberal opt-out policy, not to have her teenage daughter vaccinated, believing that the three-dose regimen was a lot of chemicals.
And then there’s the internationally known health expert who fervently believes that the vaccine is good medicine — and feels just as strongly that mandating it is a strategic mistake.
“It’s just a fascinating, multidimensional problem,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law expert who is director of Georgetown University’s law school. “The first dimension is sex and parental responsibility, which is a core conservative, religious view. The second dimension is the health and life of young girls, which really is a pro-life view. And the third dimension is the corporate intrusion, and on the corporate intrusion, the left is likely to be upset about it.”
The politics of HPV are muddled, he said, in part because vaccinations, especially government mandated ones, hit a nerve. Vaccines are one of the most physically intrusive things government can do to a citizen, he added.
Medical experts widely agree that the HPV vaccine is a safe way to protect women from a type of cancer that kills 4,000 of them a year in the United States. More than 35 million Americans have received the vaccine with no pattern of serious side effects, federal health officials have said.