Betsy Hart

I sometimes find myself encouraging my likeminded conservative friends not to go believing this or that conspiracy theory. I think we folks can get a little overwrought, a little too fearful, over the government's, or the schools', or Hollywood's, latest "attack" on the family. I sometimes want to say, "Friends, relax a little _ these organizations just aren't as focused on us family-values types as we may wish they were."

So when I heard initial reports that many states were considering mandating that a new vaccine that protects against a sexually transmitted disease be given to girls ages 11 and 12, I really didn't believe it. The vaccine, Gardasil, protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted and can lead to cervical cancer.

Then, a friend animatedly told me a pharmaceutical company was secretly pushing the mandates because it stood to make billions from the required vaccines. And I thought, "Oh, good grief, here we go again."

But as my mother would say, just because you are a hypochondriac doesn't mean you're not going to become terminally ill. Sometimes, conspiracy theories really are true. So I realized, as I watched the furor over the attempt to mandate the vaccine erupt around the country.

In my home state of Illinois, it turns out the legislature really is considering requiring that Gardasil be administered to all rising sixth-grade girls (some of whom are only 10). Those not vaccinated would actually be barred from attending school, even though HPV is only communicable through sexual contact.

Yes, religious or medical exemptions would be allowed. But talk about being made to feel like a pariah.

Oh, guess what? Gardasil's maker, Merck, which currently has a monopoly on the vaccine, really was "quietly funding the campaign, via a third party, to require 11- and 12-year-old girls to get the three-dose vaccine in order to attend school" in some 20 states, Chicago's Fox News Channel reported.

At $360 to vaccinate each child, it's no wonder. Merck was "channeling money for its state-mandate campaign through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators across the country," as the Associated Press revealed and Fox reported.

I'd love to know more about that connection. But, anyway, in the wake of the controversy, Merck announced this week that it has suspended its lobbying efforts.

Other states, particularly California and Texas _ where the governor has signed an executive order mandating the vaccine _ have also seen firestorms ignite over the issue.

Well, I have a rising sixth-grade daughter, and whatever the state of Illinois ends up deciding, she won't be getting the vaccine.

Here's why: That same daughter recently came home talking about the anti-smoking campaign that goes on in her school. No cigarettes. Ever. I'm all for it.

So then, if a vaccine were invented that could largely protect children from getting one or two of the many serious diseases and chronic conditions caused by smoking cigarettes, would we say, "So many kids are going to smoke whether we like it or not, let's mandate this vaccine for every child"?

Not an exact analogy, but imagine if Big Tobacco were secretly behind the move to mandate so that it could "safely" sell lots more cigarettes.

Somehow, I don't suppose the same people who advocate mandating the Gardasil vaccine would be for such a thing. I think most people would say that it's fine the vaccine is out there, and if some parents want to pay the big bucks for their kids to get it, or if adults want to receive it, OK.

But smoking is still a terrible habit that causes all kinds of collateral damage that can't be protected against. And for the government to mandate the expensive vaccine for children would be for Big Brother to reach past the parents and into the home, and seek to "protect" children _ in a way that doesn't really protect them at all. That in fact, by essentially throwing in the moral towel on the smoking issue and taking parents out of the equation when it comes to their kids, it may leave kids more vulnerable than ever on smoking and other matters.

Apparently a lot of parents, including this one, get that, even if our elites don't. And that's why I have a feeling that the uproar over mandating Gardasil is not going to die down until the state legislatures back down on mandating it.


Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.