February 28, 2007

Texas Governor Perry Stands Firm On HPV Vaccination Mandate For Schoolgirls

Texa Governor Rick Perry stands firm against the opposition to his executive order to vaccinate schoolgirls against HPV, making Texas the first state to mandate the vaccination. He said he is for "protecting life". Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for use against cervical cancer, which kills nearly 4,000 women a year in the US.

Republican State Senators Jane Nelson (for Grapevine, Texas) and Jim Keffer (for Eastland, Texas) said their phone lines had been ringing all day Monday with parents complaining about the governor's order.

Senator Nelson, who chairs the Senate's committee on Health and Human Services, criticised the speed with which the decision was taken, saying that it was not an emergency situation and decisions like this should be discussed and debated. She said that patients, experts and doctors should have had a say in it. Other critics are saying this was not a decision for the governor, it should have come through the legislature. In Texas, a Governor's executive order effectively bypasses the normal law-making process.

The Governor's action has been welcomed by many women's groups but the parents who are complaining say that the decision inteferes with parenting and will encourage girls to have sex early.

Governor Perry, a Republican and conservative Christian who stands against abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, disagrees that the vaccine will encourage promiscuity any more than the Hepatitis B vaccine encourages people to take drugs, and he challenged the critics by asking them if they would oppose a cure for lung cancer on the grounds that it might encourage people to take up smoking. He said the goal was the same as the polio vaccination campaign, to save lives.

Following the executive order, from autumn 2008, all girls going into sixth grade (age 11 - 12) will start the vaccination programme, which comprises three doses of Gardasil, (made by Merck and Co) over a 6 month period. The cost is around 360 US dollars and is covered by most insurance plans.

In order to maximise the coverage of the vaccination programme in Texas, the Governor has ordered that the vaccine will be free for girls aged 9 to 18 who are either not insured or not covered for the vaccine. And Medicaid will be required to offer it to women from 19 to 21 years old too.

Parents who wish to opt out of the programme have to file an affidavit, giving religious or philosophical grounds for their objection. This is the same as for any other compulsory vaccination such as those against mumps and measles.

There are over 100 types of HPV (human papillomavirus), of which around one third are sexually transmitted and shown to cause about 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that the HPV vaccine has no serious side effects, as proven by a clinical trial on 11,000 women aged between 9 and 26.

This week brings news that Florida lawmakers want to introduce legislation that would also make it compulsory for girls to be vaccinated against HPV before they become sexually active. The proposal is said to have the backing of both Democrats and Republicans. Some 20 other states are also considering doing the same. Texas is the only state so far to have bypassed the lawmakers by going down the executive order route.

Click here for more information about HPV infection (CDC).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today

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