Sponsor to Pull Measure Mandating HPV Vaccine

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A bill that would have required middle school girls in Maryland to be vaccinated against the virus that can cause cervical cancer is being shelved by its lead sponsor.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) said yesterday that she plans today to withdraw legislation that would have mandated that young girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

"It's a timing problem," Kelley said, without providing more details about her decision to pull the bill.

Kelley said she probably will reintroduce the bill next session.

The legislation required sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against HPV. The requirement would have gone into effect in September 2008.

Similar measures requiring the vaccination for girls as young as 11 and 12 are being considered in the District, Virginia, New Jersey and California.

Maryland's bill offers an exemption for religious, medical or philosophical reasons.

Kelley's bill had widespread support in the Senate, with nearly half of the senators signing on to the legislation. It had yet to be introduced in the House.

Yesterday, some of the co-sponsors said they were surprised to learn that Kelley was pulling the measure, even though, they said, they could understand her decision.

"There has been growing controversy about the vaccine," said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's), one of 21 senators who signed on to the measures. "Not about what it will accomplish, but the timeliness of it and the understanding of it being a mandate."

Britt said she received a couple of calls from parents and organizations criticizing the legislation, raising concerns that the vaccine might encourage promiscuity.

Cervical cancer afflicts almost 10,000 women a year in the United States and more than a third of them die from the disease. HPV affects 20 million Americans ages 15 to 49, but most people fight it off without knowing they had it.

Britt said she thinks there needs to be more public awareness about the vaccine.

"It did have support," Britt said of the number of lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation. "But I think the [negative] reaction came unexpectedly. Now I see this as an opportunity to do more education."

The decision to drop the measure comes as questions are being raised about drugmaker Merck & Co.'s involvement in getting bills introduced in Maryland and across the country.

The drug company is a donor to Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators across the country, and many of the bills have been introduced by members of Women in Government, the Baltimore Sun reported this week.

Merck has been pushing for state laws mandating the vaccine since the federal government approved the drug eight months ago. No state has required the vaccination.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company