October 10, 2011 - California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a controversial bill that removes the need for parental consent for vaccinating minors against sexually transmitted diseases.
Brown announced Sunday that he had indeed signed AB499, which allows children age 12 and older to get vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV), a precursor to a leading cause of cervical cancer. Under AB499, minors will also be able to access other STD prevention medications, including new drugs designed to prevent HIV infection if taken within three days of exposure.
The bill was vehemently opposed by a number of social conservative organizations that argued children do not have mature enough judgement to make important decisions about STD vaccinations. The legislation has triggered a firestorm over these issues in recent weeks, with conservatives voicing concerns over teenage sex and the extent to which pharmaceutical manufacturers wield influence over the passage of such bills.
The core of the issue involves Merck & Co., and its popular HPV vaccine Gardasil. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gardasil in 2006 to protect females between the ages of 9 and 26 against four strains of HPV which can lead to cervical cancer. Conservative groups have argued that teenagers may interpret HPV vaccination as an excuse to engage in unsafe sexual intercourse.
“By signing AB499 to coerce minors into risky Gardasil shots, Jerry Brown is deceptively telling preteen girls it will protect them from HPV, giving them a false sense of security that they can have all the sexual activity they want without risking developing cervical cancer or a raft of other negative consequences,” says Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, in a statement.
By contrast, the overwhelming majority of public health officials have recommended HPV vaccination as a critical tool for lowering the rates of cervical cancer in young girls and women. Nonetheless, Merck has been repeatedly bombarded with allegations calling into question Gardasil’s safety and potential side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), teenage HPV vaccination rates lag far behind the other two vaccines recommended for girls in this age bracket. Many believe the issues plaguing Gardasil are largely indicative of the wider controversy surrounding vaccine safety in general.
Merck, however, has been accused of shady behavior after initiating a secret marketing campaign in which the pharmaceutical giant backed Women In Government, a non-profit group of state legislators, in the hopes that a mandatory nationwide vaccination bill would be signed into law. The campaign was exposed and subsequently backfired, and Merck’s ethics were called into question.
Last month, Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry signed an executive to create a national vaccine mandate. The legislature later overturned the order, and allegations flew over Perry’s ties to Merck, which included sizable donations to the drugmaker in the years leading up to his order.
The vaccine controversy magnified the vote on the bill in California, where a number of state senators and assembly members who voted to approve the bill also received past contributions from Merck. One such politician included in the group was representative Toni Adkins, who introduced the bill earlier this year and denied that she had ever received money from Merck.
Curiously absent from the debate is the fact that thousands of girls have reported adverse reactions to HPV vaccines like Gardasil, and that a large number have even died. To date, at least 103 lives have been lost to the vaccines. Commonly reported reactions to Gardasil include:
- muscle pain and weakness
- auto-immune problems
- chest pains
- personality changes
- hand/leg tremors
- arm/leg weakness
- shortness of breath
- heart problems
- nerve pain
- menstrual cycle changes
- temporary vision/hearing loss
Unfortunately, there are few treatment options available to girls injured by Gardasil side effects. Most doctors, even if they admit the connection, have no idea how to help them. Many of the victim’s families have started looking for help outside of mainstream medicine, which may bring a small measure of temporary relief. However, most insurance plans do not cover naturopathic treatment, and as a result, this line of therapy is out of reach for many girls.