Sunday, February 04, 2007

Silly - poor people don't get choices

Brownfemipower has a really interesting post about the governer of Texas's decision to make the HPV vaccine compulsory for all girls sixth grade or above. This would also make the vaccine available for free for those who were uninsured or whose insurance doesn't cover the vaccine:

I’m really conflicted about the news that the governor of texas just wrote into law the requirement that all girls get vaccinated for HPV virus (the same one that causes cancer).

Unlike a lot of Texans who oppose the shot, I don’t for a minute think that this shot is going to cause girls to run out and screw anything that moves. But as a parent who has had to make the decision to vaccinate my child (or refuse to, depending) for anything from ear infections to polio–I’m really wondering if this governor is writing this requirement into law because he’s some big lover of women (as a lot of the leftist blogosphere seems to be thinking), or if he’s just gotten himself some pretty pocket money from the drug companies who make this vaccination (according to the article, at least 6000$ in campaign donations).
In New Zealand there is an immunisation schedule, and immunisations on the schedule are free (see we still have some tatters of a socialised medicine system left). However, there is no requirement for parents to get their child immunised, either before starting school, or at any other time. I am a strong supporter of the HPV vaccine going on the immunisation schedule, because I believe all women have the right to protect themselves from cancer. But here, we don't have to make any trade-offs.

As I understand it the only way a vaccine can be available to all, and publicly funded in America is if it is compulsory before a child can attend school (there are exemptions available to parents for conscience reasons). I can understand the public health argument which says that a kid must be immunised from certain infectious diseases before they start school (I don't necessarily agree with it, but I understand it), disease can travel very quickly among unorganised children at school and this can cause an epidemic. But this logic does not apply to the HPV vaccine, HPV is a lot harder to contract than measles, so it isn't going to spread round a school in the same way (it is clear that the vaccine is as important for later in life as it is for 6th grade, unlike other vaccines) and any genuine worry about the disease spreading would require both boys and girls to be immunised. There appears to be two reasons to support compulsory vaccination, either because your in the pay of the drug company, or you believe that it's important that poor women get access to the vaccine (or both). Neither of these are based on genuine health concerns.

This puts feminists in an impossible position. I'll leave it for American feminists to discuss how they deal with this problem, I'll just be glad that I don't have to choose between access and choice.


  1. Why compulsory only for girls? I thought men could be carriers of this virus? Seems a daft way to run a vaccination programme.

  2. I think PM the concern is that if boys are vaccinated then they will run around having casual sex willy nilly, whereas girls are more responsible than that.

    Oh, wait...

  3. Anonymous1:51 pm

    Maia, Texas, as is true in most states in the U.S., allows parents to take an exemption for their children for religious or "philosophical" reasons. All you do, when it's necessary to fill out your child's immunization records, is sign the line that states that you did not immunize your children for religious and philosophical reasons. That's it. So really, immunizations are not compulsory, even when legislation passes which makes them "compulsory." The problem is that health departments, news media, schools, the medical establishment rarely note that parents *can* take an exemption so that most parents don't even know that they can.

    The one fly in the ointment is that there have been a very few instances in which children's "protective" service officials have found parents negligent for failing to immunize, but again, that is very, very rare and in general, whenever it's happened, the parents ultimately were found not to be negligent.


  4. I believe it actually has to do with the fact that the vaccine hasn't been fully tested on boys yet (though I believe this is currently happening), and given the cancer link in particular, it makes some kind of sense to me that they prioritised it for girls, since they're the ones who're actually getting sick rather than just carrying the virus.

  5. Heart - I don't know about in America but in New Zealand there's a strong level of immunisation amongst the poor and religious, in New Zealand it's the rich, educated and anxious who are more likely to refuse compliance (Nelson is supposedly where people are less likely to be immunised than anywhere in the country).

    New Zealand has an opt in programme, where vaccinations, and vaccinations campaigns are done at school but parents must sign their permission (I believe that for any vaccinations over the age of nine or ten the kid should have to sign their permission as well as/instead of).

    Incidentally this means that I would probably feel obliged to always immunised my kids unless I knew that the risk benefit level was skewed. If I was living in an area with a high level of immunisation, so it was reasonably safe not to immunise my kids, then I'd feel by no immunising I was scabbing off poor people. If I was living among hippy liberals it'd be too risky not to immunise.

  6. Anonymous1:43 am

    Maia, the vaccine isn't really safe. I blogged about it on my own blog-- the nfo is on the National Vaccine Information site.

    In the U.S. many, many poor and working class people take the exemption to the vaccine, most of them mothers who also birth at home, breastfeed responsively, practice attachment parenting, and home school their kids. This is not an affluent or particularly highly educated demographic in the U.S.

    Having said that, I am, in general, against vaccinations; I don't believe they protect most children from becoming ill and believe there is plenty of good evidence as to that. There's some good commentary about it on either the "Thin Privilege" comments thread on my site or in the Ashley Treatment comment and also on the NVIC site.