Bishops Wary of Vaccine Mandate for Preteens

Urge Governor to Leave Decision in Parents’ Hands

AUSTIN, Texas, FEB. 22, 2007 ( Bishops are asking Governor Rick Perry to reconsider an executive order mandating a vaccine against sexually transmitted infections for girls as young as 11.

On Feb. 5, the governor signed an order making it mandatory for all girls entering sixth grade to receive the HPV vaccination statewide by 2008.

The Texas Catholic bishops’ conference issued a statement Wednesday, asking the governor “to rescind his executive order and allow the public debate to go forward on this important healthcare issue.”

The vaccine, Gardasil, protects against several strains of the human papillomarvius virus. There are numerous strains of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, resulting in genital warts in some cases.

HPV can also lead to cervical cancer, which strikes about 10,000 women annually in the United States, and kills 3,700, according to the American Cancer Society.

The statement made by the Texas bishops discussed parental concerns about their daughters’ innocence, the possibility of encouraging promiscuity, and giving young girls a false sense of security regarding sexually transmitted disease.

“[I]t is not a magic bullet and is only one avenue for disease prevention,” the bishops said.

More caution

The prelates stress that “the Church recognizes that the most effective way to avoid contracting the virus is for men and women to abstain from sexual relations before marriage and to remain faithful within marriage.”

The bishops also mention the unknown physical effects this vaccine may have.

The studies have only followed vaccinated women for five years, all on girls 16 and older, they explain. Little testing has been done on the vaccine’s effects on younger girls. The bishops urged caution until more studies have been done.

Additionally, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) has issued a statement about exemption from general vaccination but included specific information about the HPV vaccine.

The NCBC statement said “that while there is no moral objection to vaccination against HPV in and of itself, the choice to have a child immunized against HPV must ultimately rest with the parents.”

“The NCBC strongly opposes the mandating of vaccinations for non-highly contagious but communicable diseases because they do not pose the same public health threat as do the highly contagious diseases,” the statement says.

The bioethics center is particularly opposed when the mandate is “a condition for admission to public or private schools since the diseases transmitted by behavior do not pose the same public health risks as contagious diseases as defined above.”

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