“Irrespective of Cause”: a Story about Jon Huntsman, Sr. and HPV Vaccine
Former LDS Area Seventy Jon Huntsman Sr., founder of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, passed away today. In his honor, I would like to share this bit of breakroom gossip from about a decade ago, when I was an employee at the Utah Department of Health.
The Food and Drug Administration had only recently approved the first vaccine protecting against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted infection that is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Now that an effective vaccine was available, state lawmaker Karen Morgan sponsored a bill to fund vaccination of women and girls, with fervent support of local health advocates. The bill required a one million dollar appropriation, but in the end, the state legislature only appropriated $25,000, with a big caveat—none of the funds could be spent on vaccines. Instead, lawmakers wanted to direct the funds toward educating women about “abstinence before and fidelity after marriage being the surest prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including the human papillomavirus.”
About a month after the legislative session ended, I was eating lunch in the Health Department’s cafeteria when a coworker came running in, absolutely beaming.
“You will not believe what just happened,” she exclaimed. She had just finished a meeting about the new appropriation. Several stakeholders were there, including lawmakers and Jon Huntsman, Sr., representing the Huntsman Cancer Institute. As she described it, some of the people in attendance kept raising questions along the lines of, if you vaccinated girls against sexually transmitted diseases, what would stop them from having sex? Some even suggested that cervical cancer was an appropriate punishment for promiscuity.
Seemingly on impulse, Huntsman pulled out his weapon—a checkbook—and slammed it on the table. Moments later, he passed a check with lots of zeroes on it to my friend and said, “This is for vaccine.”
The next day, the Utah Department of Health announced that Jon and Karen Huntsman had donated $1 million to the Department for cervical cancer prevention, including HPV vaccination, thus paying out of their own pockets the full sum that had originally been requested of the Utah Legislature.
They also released a statement from Jon Huntsman Sr., in which he declared that “My quest in life and my pledge in death … is to assist in the eradication of cancer in all its ugly mannerisms, irrespective of cause.”