Mandating the HPV vaccine

Taylor Lowe Hartley, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. HPV is the underlying cause of cervical cancer, a malignant tumor of the female genital tract. Each year, cervical cancer is newly diagnosed in approximately 10,000 women, and over 3,000 women die from the malignancy. In addition, HPV is implicated as a cause of other cancers involving the genital tract, male and female, and the head and neck. Gardasil, a vaccine against HPV, was licensed by the FDA in June 2006. Early study results have shown Gardasil to be safe and effective at preventing HPV infections that are commonly associated with the development of cervical cancer, as well as other HPV-related cancers and genital warts. The vaccine is most effective when administered in childhood, before initial exposure to HPV, which typically occurs shortly after the onset of sexual activity. Accordingly, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended routine vaccination of females aged 11-12 years. Taking the ACIP recommendation one step further, many states have considered school-based mandates of the HPV vaccine in an attempt to reduce the burden of HPV-related illness, in particular to reduce the disparately high incidence of cervical cancer in medically underserved populations. These mandate attempts have sparked heated debate—highlighting public concerns regarding adolescent sexuality, corporate greed, and vaccines in general. Methods. My research focuses on publicly available sources of information such as medical journals, government reports (federal and state), NGO reports, newspapers, and books. I begin with a background discussion of HPV, cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine. I then discuss public health policy issues related to vaccines, vaccine mandates, and HPV-related illness. Specifically, I discuss the public health benefit of previous vaccine mandates, the legality of vaccine mandates, and the undue corporate influence on the politics of instituting HPV vaccine mandates. In addition, I examine some of the causes behind the anti-vaccine movement and the controversy surrounding adolescent sexuality as it pertains to the HPV vaccine. In the final section, I focus on the recent failed attempt by Governor Rick Perry to mandate the HPV vaccine in Texas. A retrospective analysis of Governor Perry's policy decisions is undertaken and recommendations are made regarding future attempts to mandate the HPV vaccine, or other vaccines under development for similar sexually transmitted viral diseases such as HIV and herpes simplex. Results. In Texas, as in other states across the country, HPV vaccine mandates faced opposition from those who, while they may support mandates of other vaccines, oppose mandates for the HPV vaccine based largely on the idea that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease—they see responsible sexual behavior as the appropriate method for preventing HPV-related illness. A second major group of opposition comes from those who are generally opposed to all vaccine mandates, due to concerns that mandates are intended primarily for the financial benefit of the pharmaceutical industry or due to concerns—largely unfounded—that vaccines pose a greater health threat than the illnesses they are designed to prevent. Conclusion. In order to reduce opposition to vaccine mandates, care must be taken to educate the public regarding the benefits of vaccination by mobilizing the public health sector, avoid the impression that the decision to institute mandates is rash or pressured by allowing time for open debate, and minimize lobbying efforts by vaccine manufacturers.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Hartley, Taylor Lowe, "Mandating the HPV vaccine" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1454492.