MSNBC's Jansing and O'Donnell described HPV vaccine opponent as “pro-family”

On the February 5 edition of MSNBC News Live, during a discussion of Gov. Rick Perry's (R-TX) executive order mandating that all sixth-grade girls receive Gardasil -- a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer -- host Chris Jansing introduced one of her guests, Andy Schlafly, as “a counsel for Eagle Forum, a conservative, pro-family organization.” Later on MSNBC News Live, host Norah O'Donnell similarly described Eagle Forum as “a conservative, pro-family organization” during a discussion with Texas state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D). Media Matters for America has noted instances of media figures equating “conservative” positions with “pro-family” positions.

On November 14, 2006, Farrar filed a bill that would mandate that "[e]ach female student enrolling in grade six shall be fully immunized against the human papilloma virus," with certain exceptions. The bill was referred to committee on January 30, but has not received a vote. Perry issued his executive order on February 2.

Throughout the February 5 discussions on MSNBC News Live and a news report read by O'Donnell, on-screen graphics read: “Texas: Thumbs up for sex?” and “Does vaccine promote sex?”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gardasil on June 8, 2006. As The Washington Post reported on June 9, 2006, Gardasil “is most useful if given to younger girls, because the vaccine is ineffective once the virus -- which is very common among sexually active people -- is already present.” From the article:

In what officials called a major public health breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the first vaccine developed to protect women against cervical cancer.

The vaccine, which works by building immunity against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, was found to be effective in preventing almost three-quarters of all cervical cancers.


The vaccine, called Gardisil [sic] and developed by Merck & Co., was approved for girls and women ages 9 and 26. It is most useful if given to younger girls, because the vaccine is ineffective once the virus -- which is very common among sexually active people -- is already present.

The prospect of young girls receiving the vaccine has disturbed some social conservatives, who adamantly oppose efforts to make the vaccination mandatory. They say that sexual abstinence is the best way to avoid getting the virus.

But women's and public health groups are pressing hard for early and mandatory vaccinations, saying they will potentially save thousands of lives.


On February 2, Perry signed an executive order that will mandate that all sixth-grade girls receive Gardasil beginning in September 2008. From the February 4 Associated Press article on Perry's signing:

By using an executive order that bypassed the Legislature, Republican Gov. Rick Perry -- himself a conservative -- on Friday avoided such opposition, making Texas the first state to mandate that schoolgirls get vaccinated against the virus.

Beginning in September 2008, girls entering the sixth grade will have to receive Gardasil, Merck & Co.'s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Perry also directed state health authorities to make the vaccine available free to girls 9 to 18 who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover vaccines. In addition, he ordered that Medicaid offer Gardasil to women ages 19 to 21.

Perry, a conservative Christian who opposes abortion and stem-cell research using embryonic cells, counts on the religious right for his political base. But he has said the cervical cancer vaccine is no different from the one that protects children against polio.

“The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer,” he said.

In addition to the FDA, the HPV vaccine has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Cancer Society.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the February 5 edition of MSNBC News Live:

JANSING: Governor Rick Perry has signed an executive order making Texas the first state to require nearly all sixth-grade schoolgirls to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Opponents argue this might send the wrong message and condone premarital sex. An unscientific poll on shows 62 percent of readers say that parents should decide if their children get the vaccine. Thirty-five percent support Governor Perry's decision. Joining me to debate this issue is Jessica Farrar, who is the sponsor of this bill, and Andy Schlafly, counsel for Eagle Forum, a conservative, pro-family organization opposed to this mandate. Thanks to both of you for being with us.

FARRAR: Thank you.

JANSING: Mr. Schlafly, why are you opposed to this?

SCHLAFLY: This vaccine is a loser. Imagine a vaccine that told young teenagers that if they took this vaccine, they would be protected against getting lung cancer, so they can go out and smoke. It's not true. It's not true of lung cancer, it hasn't been shown with this vaccine. The average age of diagnosis for cervical cancer is 48 years old. But they propose to give this vaccine to 11-year-old girls. Not even Merck says the vaccine will last nearly that long. Merck says they don't know how long the vaccine will last.

JANSING: Miss Farrar, is this medically suspect?

FARRAR: No, I actually think -- I'm excited that Texas is going to be the first state to do so because this vaccine will prevent thousands of cases of cervical cancer. And it's important that it's required because if it's required, then insurance companies will cover it and so will Medicaid and so will CHIP [Children's Health Insurance Program]. The FDA has approved it. It's recommended by the American Cancer Society, by the CDC, by the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And if parents don't want to give it to their child, they can opt out. And as far as the disease goes, it actually begins in your 20s, perhaps, that's about the average, so it's important that the girls are vaccinated before they're ever -- could be exposed to the virus. And so there's a set of shots in the sixth grade, and that's why it's a good time for them to go get it.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the February 5 edition of MSNBC News Live:

O'DONNELL: Texas Governor Rick Perry has ordered that beginning in 2008, all sixth-grade girls in the Lone Star State must get the vaccine against human papillomavirus. It's the nation's most commonly sexually transmitted disease and the one that causes cervical cancer. But some say that it will encourage teens to have sex. Joining me now to discuss that, Texas Democratic Representative Jessica Farrar and Andy Schlafly, counsel for Eagle Forum, a conservative, pro-family organization opposed to this mandate. Welcome to both of you.