The Republican-led House of Delegates passed a bill Thursday to eliminate the state’s 2007 requirement that girls receive the vaccine
against the human papillomavirus before enrolling in sixth grade.
The vote followed a passionate debate, primarily along partisan lines.
Virginia was the first state in the country to mandate that girls receive the vaccine against HPV, which causes genital warts and can cause cervical cancer, after a federal advisory panel suggested routine vaccination for 11- and 12-year-olds in 2006.
“Why would we not want young women — who grow into young ladies — to not get cervical cancer?” Del. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) asked his colleagues.
A final vote is expected Friday. The bill has passed the House before but died at the hands of the Democratic-controlled Senate. Supporters hope that the Senate, now controlled by Republicans, may approve it.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and at least half of sexually active people will acquire the virus in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is the main cause of cervical cancer and can also cause other less common forms of cancer.
The FDA has approved two HPV vaccines, both of which the CDC recommends as safe and effective. They are most effective if administered before a girl becomes sexually active, experts say.
Supporters of lifting the mandate, including Del. Kathy J. Byron (R-Lynchburg), who introduced the bill, said parents, not the government, should decide whether girls should be vaccinated.
The House rejected an amendment introduced by Del. Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), a gynecologist, to to give parents information about a vaccine.
Stolle argued that even if the mandate is repealed, the state health commissioner should still be required to send information to parents.
After emotional debates in several states since, including suggestions that vaccinations would encourage girls to have sex, only the District has followed Virginia and required the vaccine. Both jurisdictions offer liberal opt-out policies that allow parents to decline to have their daughters vaccinated.
Even so, HPV vaccination rates in the state are above the national average. About 54 percent of Virginia girls ages 13 to 17 have had at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 49 percent nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.