Many in Senate Back Mandatory HPV Vaccination

By Lisa Rein and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 19, 2007

Nearly half of the Maryland Senate has signed onto legislation introduced yesterday to mandate that middle school girls receive a new vaccine for cervical cancer.

Maryland would help lead a nationwide effort to require that young adolescents receive the vaccine, which guards against the common, sexually transmitted virus at the root of one of the deadliest cancers to afflict women. The federal government approved the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, seven months ago.

"Having the ability to eliminate a disease is something that cannot and should not be overlooked and should be made available to young girls," said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's), one of 21 senators who have signed onto the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dolores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County.)

House leaders said it is too early to determine the bill's chances for passage.

Senate Bill 54 follows similar measures introduced in the District and in the Virginia General Assembly last week. The American Cancer Society, adding its voice to those of health experts pushing the vaccine, is releasing guidelines this morning in support of routine HPV vaccination for 11- and 12-year-old girls.

Several Maryland lawmakers said the vaccine would affect their families directly. "I have two teenage daughters," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), a co-sponsor. "I don't want them to get cancer."

New Jersey, California, Georgia, Texas and Kentucky are considering similar measures.

Attempts to make vaccination mandatory have been criticized by groups concerned about encouraging promiscuity or infringing on parents' authority over their daughters' health care. Some oppose such efforts because of health worries about vaccines in general. But many health advocates, among others, support the idea.

Legislation in other states has offered exemptions for religious, medical or philosophical reasons.

Cervical cancer afflicts almost 10,000 women a year in the United States, killing more than a third of them. Minority and low-income women are most affected; African Americans die at a rate more than double that of white women.

Some, but not all, private insurers offer coverage of the vaccine, called Gardasil. Most girls from low-income, uninsured or under-insured families will be covered through public programs.

HPV affects 20 million Americans ages 15 to 49. Most people fight it off without even knowing they had it. Cervical cancer is caused by high-risk types of the virus that trigger abnormal cell growth. Gardasil has proved 100 percent effective against two of the most prevalent high-risk types, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Staff writer Susan Levine contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company