A fairly straightforward request brought before City Council yesterday led to a brief if interesting debate between councilmembers Jack Christie, Mike Laster and Jerry Davis on the benefits of HPV vaccinations. Agenda item 18 in yesterday's session proposed a grant application for $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC that would allow the Houston Health Department to provide greater access to a vaccine that prevents certain types of human papilloma virus, which can, in turn, prevent many types of reproductive cancers in both men and women.
Christie, who serves as At-Large Position 5 Council Member, spoke in opposition to the grant proposal in a monologue that was equal parts confusing and incorrect.
In his short statement, Christie claimed people have died as a result of HPV vaccinations (an oft-floated anecdote passed off as fact; no causal deaths have yet to be linked to the vaccine); that 27 people died as a result of botched swine flu vaccinations (while the mass vaccination effort of 1976 was widely considered a debacle at the time, only one person died and a chastised CDC drastically changed the way it responds to potential pandemics as a result); and that "sexual promiscuity is the main cause" of HPV (which is obviously a sexually transmitted disease, but one that's so common that nearly every single sexually active adult in America has had a form of HPV whether they realized it or not, as the virus is often asymptomatic).
Below, Christie's statement in its entirety, mostly because it's tough to understand in snippets:
I don't like to take unpopular stances sometimes, but we're taking $500,000 from the federal government, which is taxpayer money, to promote another new vaccine, HPV, and at the state level it was debated numerous times. There've been documented cases of a few people dying from the vaccine. It is given to adolescents. There's a very touching commercial. There's a preponderance towards females first but now they're trying to get males to take it. There are, I think, seven types of human papilloma virus and supposedly this vaccine only relates to two of them. Sexual promiscuity is the main cause. You're telling parents if you don't want your... It's not fixing the cause of it; it's trying to experiment and prevent papilloma virus. And just remember—there are lawsuits with damages from these neurotoxins that get into the body and damage the nervous system there's a separate court, you can't go to civil court; the taxpayers pay for the damages. All vaccines go to vaccine courts so they say there's no worry about it. Go back to one of the first vaccines—the swine flu vaccine. It killed 27 people—that's a government report, it's not me—a $1 billion dollars of lawsuits and the disease never came. So just think about it. When you're voting for something—and, oh it has nothing to do with shots Christie—you know, it markets it, it creates videos, promotions. Just think of what the newscasters were given—every newscaster was given the flu shot will not give you the flu. That's a misnomer. After I talked against that, six people in this room said, "It gave me the flu." A medical writer on one of the local stations said, "It gave my son the flu." So just be cautious of the medical-industrial complex pushing a new vaccine. They're spending $2 billion dollars to find a vaccine for Zika; Zika's been around for hundreds of years. So just be cautious on what you promote and allow to promote. I know it's unpopular, but years later like the rough drinking water, it took five years to find out there's chemicals in that. Just be cautious. I know it'll pass and they'll get their money create a new vaccine, there'll be a different one next year. But protect these children from having toxic chemicals put into them that'll have serious side effects.
Councilman Mike Laster spoke next, disagreeing with many of Christie's claims. "One of the things that has concerned me over the past several years is the increasing information that's put out there that scares people about vaccines," he said. "When medical technology, medical testimony, medical evidence demonstrates that, by and large, that vaccines save many, many people, we certainly should be cautious, but providing access to these vaccines for people to make independent decisions in their lives are very important."
Mayor Pro-Tem Jerry Davis added: "I also want to state that I understand what you're saying, Councilman Christie, but I think they still have a choice and that's the bottom line." Christie, however, disagreed.
"There will be bills filed, like in California, by the medical industry that will take that choice away from you," Christie responded. "Be cautious. You have that choice in Texas now, but you have to apply for that choice through the Texas Department of Health and they number your children for refusing the vaccine," referring—we're guessing—to the affidavit parents must fill out to receive an exemption for their child, which is pretty standard paperwork. "So just watch out," he finished, "the medical-industrial complex taking that choice away and making it almost criminal not to do what they say to do. Be cautious."
Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine to be approved by the FDA, has been on the market since 2006. In that time, the World Health Organization estimates that 205 million doses of the vaccine have been given worldwide. In that time, massive reductions have been shown in genital warts (a common side effect of certain HPVs) and cervical abnormalities as a result. Although some types of human papilloma virus clear up on their own, others do not—and it's those, specifically HPV 16 and HPV 18—that can cause cervical cancer.
According to numerous studies, HPV infection causes virtually all cervical cancers as well as 90 percent of anal, 70 percent of vaginal, 50 percent of penile, 40 percent of vulvar, and 13 to 72 percent of oropharyngeal cancers. The number of deaths from cervical cancer have already declined sharply over the last 40 years, thanks in large part to greater access to annual pap smears, and HPV vaccines have the potential to cut that rate even further.
What hasn't declined in recent years is the number of unvaccinated children in the state of Texas. Counter to Christie's claims that California is setting a precedent in this area, a bill passed in 2003 by former Governor Rick Perry allowed parents in Texas to opt out of vaccinating their children "for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief." Since that time, the amount of unvaccinated children in Texas has spiked. Only 2,314 children were unvaccinated in Texas in 2003; a decade later, that number had jumped by 93 percent to 32,616. By 2015–2016, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported that it had increased another 27 percent in just three years to 44,716. It would appear that Christie's freedom of choice in the matter is still very much intact here, and in fact in California, where the HPV vaccine remains entirely voluntary.
And while it's true that other vaccines in California are mandatory in order for children to attend public school, those vaccinations are the same ones given to children for decades to prevent measles, whooping cough, polio and other devastating diseases. Perhaps Christie doesn't consider cervical cancer as devastating a diagnosis, or perhaps he—like many other anti-HPV proponents—equates the shot with promiscuity (a word that Christie tried and failed to pronounce several times during his speech). Ironically, today's teens are having much less sex and far fewer unplanned pregnancies than previous generations, with rates of both in steep decline since the 1990s.
Three years ago, Christie came under fire for similar comments he made regarding the flu shot, voting against a proposal to accept $3.1 million in federal funding for childhood immunizations, claiming that "You don't die from the flu." This is where it should be noted that although Christie's Twitter handle is @drjackchristie, the chiropractor received his DC—not his MD—from the Texas Chiropractic College, and is not a medical doctor. The CDC estimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from the flu each year.
Despite Christie's protests, both proposals were passed.