Mandate Has No Effect: Spinning Heads on HPV Vaccine


The latest news out of the Rhode Island government-media spin machine is that “HPV vaccination rate ‘extremely encouraging’,” as Richard Salit’s Providence Journal article puts it.  The lede or secondary headline was: “First year vaccine is required for seventh graders.”

It’s enough to make a well-informed Rhode Islander scream at the computer, tablet, or dead-tree newspaper.  Readers may recall that the HPV vaccine became controversial in Rhode Island because the state government presumed to make Rhode Island one of only two states to mandate inoculation against the sexually transmitted disease and the only one to do so by regulatory fiat.

Here’s the “extremely encouraging” news:

As of Sept. 1, with data compiled on 85 percent of the seventh graders in public and private schools, 72.5 percent had received at least the first in a series of three recommended doses of HPV vaccine.

That’s pretty good, right?  Vindication for the mandate?  Not really.  Read a bit farther and do some math:

Because it’s a new mandate, the only previous Rhode Island statistic to compare that to is one from 2014 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It estimated that, among those ages 13 to 17, 76 percent of girls and 69 percent of boys had the first dose of the HPV vaccine.

Average those two percentages, and you get… 72.5%.  Public school enrollment data for the 2014-2015 school year shows that there are more boys, so the overall percentage based on the two numbers given would be 72.3%, but the percentages themselves are rounded, and private schools may very well shift the balance back toward equal numbers.

In other words, the government diktat that all students must put this drug in their body changed the vaccination rate almost not at all.  It did, however, create a new precedent for the bureaucracy’s little dictators.  On the positive side, it may have sparked some enduring backlash and eroded confidence in the government, inasmuch as the number of religious exemptions for vaccines jumped from “about half a percent for the 2014-15 school year to 4.47 percent for 2015-16 year.”

Any push-back against the state government in Rhode Island is good news, as far as I’m concerned, especially when the local news media tends to simply pass along the government’s spin.