GOP Vaccine Debate Draws Ire From Maryland Doctors, Moms
Criticism surrounds the latest GOP political sparring over the HPV vaccine.
The vaccine that protects against cervical cancer is a safe and effective medicine but it probably should not be mandated in Maryland, say medical professionals and parents in response to a national political uproar.
Candidates in a Sept. 12 nationally televised GOP presidential debate argued over the vaccine’s safety and its administration.
Republican presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry defended his 2007 executive order mandating HPV vaccination for all 11-to-12-year-old girls in Texas. He was responding to Rep. Michele Bachmann's claim the vaccine is dangerous and should not be forced on "innocent little 12-year-old girls."
According to the New York Times, Bachmann later linked the vaccine with mental retardation.
“You’ve got to deal with people who don’t know what the heck they are talking about,” said Dr. Daniel Levy, assistant professor of pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.
“We know that the vaccine has very few common side effects…It has no significant documented effects on the central nervous systems that are known.”
Levy, who runs a pediatric practice in Owings Mills, said the peer scientific evidence disproves Bachmann's statements.
“I don’t know where Michele Bachmann gets her information,” he said.
Levy advised parents to check facts with such organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A Reisterstown parenting columnist agreed.
"It's up to parents to do their research and decide what is right for their own children,” said Christina Shapiro in an e-mail.
Arbutus mother Bridgett Goldfarb, a nurse, was in favor of vaccination.
“I think the vaccine is a fantastic idea—I don’t know if it should be mandated, but it is something that I will give my daughters,” Goldfarb said. “I’m not afraid it will cause mental retardation. I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
According to an ABC News report, only Virginia and Washington, D.C., have laws mandating HPV vaccinations as a requirement for attending schools, although 24 other states have introduced legislation to that effect since 2007.
The vaccine is not mandated in the state of Maryland, said Greg Reed, the immunization program director for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Health. However the department does recommend the vaccine's administration for girls.
“It shouldn't be required, because you will always have your religious families that feel that getting the vaccine will promote promiscuity among their daughters,” said Shapiro. “However, I also don't think that it is up to elected officials to make unfounded statements regarding the safety of the vaccine."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer by immunizing people from the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex.
The CDC states that HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.
“As a parent I feel it’s very important to vaccinate my children to prevent any potentially problematic or deadly disease,” said Linda Esterson, an Owings Mills mother who blogs about parenthood. Esterson’s daughter was vaccinated against HPV two years ago.
However some parents, like Eldersburg mother Kelli Nelson, said they have more thinking to do on the issue.
Nelson is a cervical cancer survivor and has three children, including twin 13-year-old girls.
“We have chosen not to have our daughters vaccinated at this time,” she said. “One reason is that HPV is not a national health crisis; it’s not airborne like the flu…We feel like it’s not a necessity like other vaccines are, and it has not been out long enough to have had long-term studies on large populations of women …It’s just too new for our liking.”
She said she would reconsider her decision if she felt her children were ready to be sexually active.
Dr. Emilie Cole, a pediatrician at the Columbia Medical Practice, said recommending the HPV vaccine is part of standard immunization practice.
“All parents want to know things like what’s the safety record, and why we do it,” she said. “We talk to them about HPV infection, what it is, how it’s contracted, and what the implications of HPV are in a young girl.”
Cole called the scientific findings that linked HPV to cancer an "amazing discovery. We’re doing this so we can decrease the incidence of this cancer in young women.”
But she said she did not necessarily favor the vaccine being mandated.
“Making it a state law is a little difficult," she said. "It really is a personal preference.”
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine to prevent infection of four types of HPV; two of the types targeted by the vaccine are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer worldwide, while the other two types of HPV targeted by the vaccine cause 90 percent of the cases of genital warts.
According to the CDC, each year, approximately 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer; 4,000 die from the disease.
The vaccine is administered in a series of three shots over six months, and is recommended by the CDC for 11- to 12-year-old girls and women aged 13 to 26. The vaccine has also recently been approved for boys.
In the meantime, the American Academy of Pediatrics has since released a statement on the vaccine in the wake of the GOP debate.
"Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record," the statement read.
Editor's Note: Bridgett Goldfarb is the wife of Arbutus Patch local editor Bruce Goldfarb.