My LTE – Shaping the Discussion

Letters To The Editor

Letters To The Editor

In my on-going letter-writing campaign, I do believe I’m making progress in shaping the local debates.

Fresh from getting my own column published, I wrote another LTE rebutting one of the three worse columnists in our local newspaper – Charles Reichley. As a result of my rebuttal, which was published last week, Mr. Reichley apparently felt the need to rebut my rebuttal, even to the point of directly quoting a portion of my letter in his column.

To be fair, he was polite to me in his column – in direct contrast to that of Ken Concannon several weeks ago. As sorry as it sounds, he actually did find an error in the facts I included in my LTE – something I intend to not let happen again.

So, back on January 24, Reichley wrote a column “Don’t delay… repeal,” on the topic of the HPV vaccine. Our state government had just punted on the issue of whether to make this vaccine mandatory in Virginia. A columnist I actually respect (and the closest we have here to a liberal writer), Gary Jacobsen, had penned a column supporting mandatory vaccines. Reichley, in keeping with his conservative credentials, had come out against it and directly rebutted Jacobsen. Also in keeping with his conservative credentials, he left a hole in his logic I just couldn’t help but drive a truck through.

In fact, that’s my first argument against a government mandate. Medical decisions should be made by an informed judgment of the patient in consultation with a doctor. But the current law dictates that every child gets the vaccination, without regard to their own judgment. A mandate implies that there is nothing to discuss with the doctor, no real decision to be made.
…[snip]…
The government has no business forcing people to do what government thinks is best for them. Government’s job is to protect us from one another, not from ourselves. Parents can decide about vaccination in consultation with their doctors, not on orders from the government.

So, I wrote my latest LTE, “Double standards with HPV vaccine” which was published February 8:

In the way a stopped clock is accurate twice each day, Charles Reichley’s column of Jan. 24, “Don’t delay… repeal” arguing against mandatory Human Papillomavirus (HPV) immunizations actually has a valid point. My inner Libertarian especially agreed with his conclusion:

“The government has no business forcing people to do what government thinks is best for them. […] Parents can decide about vaccination in consultation with their doctors, not on orders from the government.”

The Virginia Department of Health currently requires vaccinations against 11 diseases that equally affect men and women, including measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and polio. My inner Libertarian would carry Mr. Reichley’s position to the logical conclusion that parents should be able to decide on any or no vaccinations for their children. Yet Mr. Reichley only opposes mandatory HPV immunization. Why?

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is fatal to women. According to the CDC, by the age of 50 more than 80 percent of American women will contract HPV through sexual intercourse. Each year, 14,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 3,900 women die. Peer-reviewed studies show that HPV infection is a factor in nearly all cases of cervical cancer. FDA monitored tests show that HPV vaccines offer nearly 100 percent protection against HPV-caused cervical cancers with few or no side effects if it is administered before a woman becomes sexually active.

I have to wonder, would Mr. Reichley oppose this mandatory vaccine if HPV affected sexually-active men the same way as women?

Actually shorter than my normal writings, but I think I’m learning to keep it brief and to the point. I really didn’t expect to hear anything about it again.

However, in today’s paper Reichley’s column “The HPV vaccine revisited” directly quoted a snippet of my LTE, and went on with a rebuttal:

This prompted a reader to write a letter asking why I singled out the HPV vaccination over all the other required vaccinations. “My inner Libertarian would carry Mr. Reichley’s position to the logical conclusion that parents should be able to decide on any or no vaccinations for their children.”

He went on to defend his original position, and pointed out an error in my facts:

The reader also stated that “HPV vaccines offer nearly 100 percent protection against HPV-caused cervical cancers.” This is not correct — the vaccine prevents four strains of HPV, which account for 70 percent of cervical cancers. As the Centers for Disease Control notes, “About 30% of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine, so it will be important for women to continue getting screened for cervical cancer (regular Pap tests).”

So he got me (I did re-check my references before conceeding this point). I actually wrote a nice letter to him, CCed to the editor, acknowledging that my facts were incorrect, complimenting him on rebutting me without ridicule, and went on to once again briefly challenge his core argument.

What I am pleased about is that columnists are actually reading what I write, and consider what I write significant enough to drive the topics of their columns. So in my own small way, I feel I’m beginning to have an impact on shaping the local public discussions.

I really need to try writing another column.

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