No one wants the government rifling through his or her bank accounts. The FBI has no business perusing your grocery lists. The right of privacy is clear in this country. With very few exceptions, the government has no reason to mandate that you tell them about your finances, your relationships, or your personal health.
That is why Representative Naomi Jakobsson's bill, HB115, is unconstitutional. The bill requires that sixth grade girls receive the vaccination for HPV before going to public or private school. Many similar laws and proposals have cropped up in other states as well.
The decision to get the HPV vaccine should be between a woman, her parents if applicable, and her doctor. HB115 does not specifically require that girls entering the sixth grade get the vaccine, but it does require the disclosure of whether that vaccine has been administered or not. The school has no need of that information. The right of privacy dictates that the government cannot demand private sexual health information.
Schools have a compelling interest to know which students are vaccinated or not for diseases such as polio, mumps and the like. These diseases can be transmitted in the classroom where students are required to congregate. Even if parents choose not to vaccinate, the schools could use the information to contain an outbreak should one occur.
With HPV, no plausible or allowable situation would allow for the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease in school. Quite simply students aren't allowed to have sex at school for obvious reasons.
Further, there is nothing keeping the government from making the HPV vaccine a recommended one for girls. Doctors can discuss the issue with parents and the girls and they can decide what is best for them. They don't need Naomi Jakobsson, Rod Blagojevich, or anyone else deciding the matter for them. Neither do they need to have school officials looking over their shoulder.
Additionally, there are some serious concerns about the trials of the HPV vaccine that could pose risks for young girls. 17 people died during the trials and sixty percent of participants had side effects ranging from headaches to asthma to gastroenteritis. The vaccine contains aluminum which has been considered to cause problem in people. In clinical trials, the rate of problems between the placebo and the vaccine were similar. The placebo also contained aluminum.
In short there are significant concerns that the testing was flawed. In the recent past, drugs such as Vioxx proved to have problems after passing FDA testing. Rushing the drug to market and then sticking our daughters with it before all the facts are in and adequate testing is done is a dangerous gamble. The company that made Vioxx was shown to have used less-than-sound testing practices in getting the drug to market. Both Vioxx and the HPV vaccine are made by Merck.
Adopting new technologies, whether a vaccine, new medical treatment, or the latest version of Microsoft Windows, is best done in a cautious manner. The vaccine has only been approved since June, 2006. Rushing to make the drug mandatory smacks more of a government handout to Merck than a public health concern.
At $360 for the entire series, many poor women and girls will not be able to afford the vaccine on their own. If the state makes disclosure mandatory, that amount will likely be foisted on the tax payer. All in all, for the state of Illinois alone, Merck will profit $32.4 million per year out of such legislation.
If the drug is such a winner, doctors will have no problem selling it to patients. They don't need politicians smashing through the wall of doctor-patient privilege to try to force the drug down the American public. Not just the right of privacy is at stake, but the legally protected doctor-patient privilege. Either Jakobsson doesn't trust doctors to give the information or she doesn't trust parents to make the right choices. Either way, it isn't her business, or the business of the state of Illinois.
Assuming the drug is safe, vaccination should be the parents' option to choose for their daughters or for women to choose for themselves. However, like all other health decisions, the right of privacy requires that the state butt out. Medical decisions should be between patient and provider and any intrusion without a significant government interest is unconstitutional. Schools exist to provide sound education for students, not to be a platform to force medical decisions down parents' throats.
John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.