VA Gov Amends HPV Law: Parents To Decide

"Last month, the [Virginia] House and Senate passed bills to require all girls entering the sixth grade to get the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Del. Phillip Hamilton's bill requires parents wishing to exempt their children from the vaccine to fill out a form from the State Board of Health Regulations for the Immunization of School Children. Kaine's amendment would eliminate the need for parents or guardians to submit written requests for their children to opt out of the vaccine, called Gardasil. "While I believe that this vaccine shows great promise for preventing cancer, I believe that the decision to administer this vaccine should be made by parents," Kaine said in a statement. "My amendments further clarify the provision that a girl's parent or guardian has complete discretion to decide whether their child should be vaccinated." - Kristen Gelineau, AP, Daily Press, March 26, 2007, Kaine proposes HPV vaccine amendment; restaurant smoking ban

Barbara Loe Fisher Commentary:

Congratulations to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine for having the wisdom and vision to amend the nation's first HPV vaccine mandate to an "opt-in" and not an "opt-out" requirement for girls entering the sixth grade. Virginia parents will now have, in the Governor's words, "complete discretion" in choosing whether or not their 11 year old daughters will get three doses of HPV vaccine. Parents will not have to sign a written statement declining the vaccine for records kept by state government health officials.

Governor Kaine and Virginia legislators have come under intense pressure by Merck lobbyists seeking to persuade Virginia and many other states to mandate that girls entering sixth grade get three doses of GARDASIL, a vaccine fast tracked at the FDA and quickly recommended in 2006 by the CDC for girls entering puberty. However, there has been a nationwide parent backlash to the aggressive advertising and lobbying campaign by Merck to require use of GARDASIL for young school girls.

Parent-led organizations, such as NVIC, have opposed vaccine mandates citing lack of vaccine safety and efficacy data for girls under age 16 and questioning the rationale for mandated use of a vaccine for an infection that cannot be transmitted in the public setting for a cancer that has dropped 74 percent in the past four decades because routine pap screening has become standard health care for women in America. Other parent-led organizations oppose the government requiring pre-adolescent girls to use a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease before they are sexually active because it potentially interferes with parental influence in the teaching of moral values.

Governor Kaine did the right thing: after weighing the benefits and risks of signing the HPV vaccine mandate, he amended it to reflect the will of the people. He gave back to parents and pediatricians the decision of whether or not an 11 year old girl living in Virginia should get three doses of HPV vaccine. And he wisely rejected the idea that the names of those who decline HPV vaccine for their daughters should be put on an "opt-out" list kept by state health officials.

Governors in every state would do well to take note of the vision that Governor Kaine has demonstrated and follow his lead. Education, not coercion, is the best way to encourage citizens to take responsibility for the health care choices they make for themselves and their children. Cost and access barriers to vaccine use can be lowered through legislation without using legislation to force vaccine use upon citizens against their will.

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