INDIANAPOLIS – A letter sent to 305,000 Hoosier parents with children who have not received the HPV vaccine is drawing criticism.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, sent an email out to supporters Wednesday after he received the letter at home regarding his 14-year-old daughter.
"I am not anti-pharmaceutical. I am not anti-vaccine. I certainly don’t want anyone to get a virus that might lead to cancer," he said. "I am for parental rights and limited government. A nanny state is not my idea of a self-governing, free society. I think our founders would agree with me."
He called the letter intrusive and noted the state has a vaccine database keeping track of children. This includes the human papillomavirus vaccine, which is not required by state law.
"We chose not to vaccinate our daughter for a sexually transmitted disease. She has been vaccinated for easily communicable diseases like polio and mumps," Clark said. "This, however, is something with completely different moral connotations and risk/benefit considerations."
The letter read, in part: "HPV vaccines help protect boys and girls against various cancer that affect 27,000 men and women annually. Please allow this letter to serve as a reminder to contact your healthcare provider and make an appointment to start the series …
"Vaccination is the best way to prevent HPV infection and associated cancers that present later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians, all children, 11 and older, should get vaccinated. By vaccinating at this age, preteens will be protected before any exposure to the virus occurs."
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and other medical issues. Only about 23 percent of Indiana girls age 13-16 have received all three doses of the HPV vaccine, according to federal statistics.
Clark questions the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine.
Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday he was not aware of the letter before it went out.
"We’re looking into it," he said. "We certainly want to respect the prerogatives of parents. The role of the state department of health in making information available to families is longstanding. We’ll look into it and make sure it’s clarified."
ISDH spokeswoman Jennifer O’Malley said the letters were sent starting the week of Sept. 21 to parents of children with no record of having started the HPV series in the state immunization information system, which is called CHIRP.
She said the agency’s immunization division regularly checks the system and sends reminder notices to those missing a vaccine. The registry tracks both required and recommended vaccines.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children ages 11 and up receive the HPV vaccine, and it is one of the many vaccines recorded in the CHIRP database.
O’Malley said all immunization records are automatically added to the CHIRP database, but parents have the option of exempting and permanently removing their child’s information from the database by filling out an exemption form.
Clark sent out an update email that said Pence’s office is putting a stop to the letter. Any new letters sent will allegedly have a more respectful and even tone on the vaccine.
Pence’s office stepped in against a legislative effort earlier this year to try to increase the rate of HPV vaccination to 80 percent. The measure was defeated in the Indiana House.
At the time, the governor said establishing such a goal might "set Indiana on the path toward mandate, (which) created a concern for many people. I think it is a decision that’s best left to parents in consultation with their doctors."