The first time many Americans ever heard of the HPV vaccination was when it was shrouded in a political controversy.
Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order in 2007 mandating that the vaccine be given to 11- and 12-year-old girls (an action that was overridden by the Texas legislature). Only a year earlier, the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended routine vaccination against HPV for girls between those ages. But Perry's advocacy was strongly opposed at the time of social conservatives and Tea Party types, like Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, who blasted him about it at a GOP presidential debate
in Tampa in 2011, saying that the policy amounted to a "government injection" and was a "violation of a liberty interest."
Since that time, health officials have tried to educate parents that children at those ages should get three vaccinations: a Tdap booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough; an MCV4 shot that protects against meningitis; and 3 HPV shots to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer in women and genital warts and anal cancer in women and men.
But when it comes to children getting the HPV vaccine, "We're in terrible shape as a country." That's according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Dr. Schuchat spoke at a press conference at CMLS in Tampa today organized by Congresswoman Kathy Castor to shed light on the local effort being organized in the Bay area to educate and inform parents that their young girls and boys need to get the vaccine now.
No state in the country has had worse rates of HPV vaccination than Florida, though Schuchat gave the encouraging news today that it's no longer 50th in the nation in compliance. The CDC says all kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get the three-dose series of the HPV vaccine. Teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should get it now, and can be vaccinated up to age 26 for women and 21 for men.
Congresswoman Castor said she knew Florida needed work on its low HPV vaccination ranking, but was stunned when she visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta earlier this year and learned that the state was dead last. That's led to assembling
a network of clinical providers and researchers from USF Health and Moffitt Cancer Center to help create a gender-neutral HPV vaccine campaign, with the ultimate goal of preventing disease and improving health in Tampa Bay and across Florida.
Eight USF Public Health grad students spent the last month developing a message, and they now have three different slogans that they'll be employing to educate the community (including some doctors who have been reluctant to stress the importance of the vaccination). That includes a new Facebook page
When Dr. Schuchat was asked why there seemed to be a tamping down on the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted, she said that emphasis at the introduction of the vaccine back in 2006 "harmed" its rollout. She emphasized that this is all about cancer prevention.
And it should be noted that Perry, a likely 2016 presidential contender, is not backing away from what he did back in 2007, except to say he should have gone through the Texas Legislature rather than sign an executive order.
"Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die," he said after that 2011 debate
. "At the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that. And at the end of the day, you may criticize me about the way that I went about it, but at the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life."