Once again, the vaccines for thwarting HPV, notably Merck's Gardasil, are causing a stir. In the latest dust up, the California Catholic Conference is urging state residents to contact their legislators to oppose a bill that would remove parental consent for vaccinating children 12 and older against sexually transmitted diseases.
Although California law already allows children 12 and older to consent to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without involvement from their parents, the proposed bill would expand that right to immunizations (read the bill here).
In an action alert, the bishops' group warns parents that "minors do not have adequate judgment to make a decision about a vaccine that as of January 15, 2011, had 21,171 adverse reactions and 91 deaths reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
"Most parents are involved in the lives of their minor children and need to know if they are seeking medical care, regardless of whether the care is curative or preventative. This bill appears to be an 'end run' following the failure in 2007 to mandate HPV vaccination for all girls entering public junior high school - a measure strongly opposed by parents’ rights groups and vetoed by the Governor."
Of course, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention long ago deemed Gardasil as a needed public health tool. The FDA in 2006 approved the vaccine to protect against the 6, 11, 16 and 18 strains of the human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer, in girls and women ages 9 to 26. However, the agency has repeatedly rejected its use in older women (see here). More recently, GlaxoSmithKline won approval to market Cervarix.
Yet even before Gardasil was approved, the notion of such a vaccine began triggering concerns among some parents and social conservatives that widespread availability may offer teenagers a green light for premarital sex. At the same time, some vaccine opponents have continually pointed to side effect reports and lobbied the FDA to rescind approval (see this).
Those twin themes are now being repeated by Catholics for the Common Good. On its web site, William May, who chairs the organization, writes that the proposed bill is a "sinister agenda of sexualizing our children" and then asks "how can a 12-year-old evaluate risks and statistics? How do their brains process such information? Has there ever been a study on that?
"Children can be easily intimidated or influenced by the authority of adults," he continues. "There is money to be made by administering these vaccines and other drugs by the drug companies and service providers (like Planned Parenthood). What protects children from coercion driven by the profit motive?"
The sinister agenda that May mentions may have been stoked by the aggressive, behind-the-scenes lobbying by Merck, which sought to push mandatory vaccination around the country. That effort backfired, though, after its tactics became publicized (see here and here).
We have left a message with California Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who introduced the bill, for her reaction to this opposition and will update you accordingly. UPDATE: Atkins called us to say the impetus for the bill was a combination of her own interest in health care and an approach by the American College of Gynecology, which helped her gather data to craft the bill. In the past, she says she has received as much as $1,000 in funding from Glaxo, but nothing from Merck. And neither drugmaker, she adds, ever contacted her about the bill.
ANOTHER UPDATE: However, as a loyal reader points out, Merck provided $477,000 in program support, publication distribution and research awards to ACOG last year (see here). And there were $97,000 in continuing education grants awarded in the first quarter of 2011 (see this).
As to the criticism, Atkins says the bill "is closing the gap between the past and increasing technologies that allow minors access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment...I'm not surprised they're critical, though. Their position on reproductive health issues, as they relate to women and minors, has always been one of opposition...They were opposed to abortion rights for women in California. My hope is to follow the science and the recommendations of the CDC."