March 7, 2007

Washington, D.C., Bill Requiring HPV Vaccine Would Save 'Thousands' Of Women's Lives, Editorial Says

"Emotion and ignorance shouldn't thwart" a Washington, D.C., City Council bill that would require girls entering the sixth grade to receive Merck's human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil and would "save the lives of thousands of women," a Washington Post editorial says (Washington Post, 1/11). Gardasil in clinical trials has been shown to be 100% effective in preventing infection with HPV strains 16 and 18, which together cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases. FDA in July 2006 approved the vaccine for sale and marketing to girls and women ages nine to 26, and CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices later that month voted unanimously to recommend that girls ages 11 and 12 receive the vaccine. According to the legislation, sponsored by City Council Members Mary Cheh (D) and independent David Catania, female students would be required to show proof of vaccination before enrolling in the sixth grade in District of Columbia Public Schools, unless their parent or legal guardian chose to "opt out" of the requirement. The bill does not specify the circumstances under which girls would be allowed an exemption (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 1/10). According to the editorial, the bill gives parents the "right" to "have a say in the health management" of their children and "would mandate that parents get the data needed to make informed choices." Opposition to the measure because of "the misguided belief that the virus doesn't pose the same kind of threat to the public as other transmissible pathogens" or the belief that "receiving the vaccine will encourage promiscuity" do not "square with the fact[s]," the Post says. "If common sense wins out here, the [d]istrict will lead the nation in an important area of public health -- and will save some lives," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 1/11).

Related Opinion Piece
If you have a daughter entering the sixth grade of a public school in the district next year, "your daughter is 11 and probably black, so the assumption" made by the bill is "she'll be having unprotected sex in no time -- but don't take offense," Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy writes in an opinion piece. According to Milloy, Catania and Cheh, who he calls "two nice white people," proposed a program to vaccinate "girls under 13 in a predominantly black school system" against HPV. "After all, if the girls' parents can't protect them -- and, God knows, they can't protect themselves -- then somebody's got to do it." Milloy writes, "Forget about taking time to educate the public about HPV or exploring any adverse side effects of the vaccination. ... And please don't bring up that old paranoia about government agencies conducting medical experiments on black people. ... That practice was found to be unconstitutional -- eventually." He adds, "Let's just go right at these presumed-to-be promiscuous, 11-year-old black girls" (Milloy, Washington Post, 1/10).

"Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation . © 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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