By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 3, 2007
RICHMOND, March 2 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Friday that he has decided to sign legislation requiring all sixth-grade girls to get immunized against a virus that causes cervical cancer if their parents don't object.
Kaine (D) had expressed "some qualms" this week about mandating that girls receive the human papillomavirus vaccine before entering high school, but he said many of those concerns were alleviated after he studied the bill closer.
"The particular language that ended up in the bill is fine," Kaine said today. "It's very broad, and people get information about the health benefits and any health concerns about the vaccination, and they get to make their own decisions. I think that is the right balance."
Virginia will become the second state to require the vaccine, which is called Gardasil. Last month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said girls in that state would also be required to receive it. At least 20 states and the District are studying similar proposals.
New Jersey-based pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co. received federal approval in June to sell the vaccine. Merck began a nationwide lobbying campaign to try to get states to mandate the vaccine. Merck suspended its campaign two weeks ago amid questions about whether profit, instead of public health, is guiding the debate.
In Virginia, parents will be able to opt out of the requirement without citing a reason.
"If they choose not to do it, they don't have to do it," said Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), the sponsor of the legislation. "They just have to sign a form so the health department knows they opted out."
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that causes almost 7,000 cases of cervical cancer annually. A federal study released Wednesday estimated that 7.5 million girls and women ages 14 to 24 have been infected with the virus.
Because the virus is transmitted through sexual contact, some parents and politicians worry that mandating the vaccine might encourage promiscuity. But a bipartisan majority in the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the mandate.
The bill would take effect in 2008, making the 2008-09 school year the first that girls would be required to receive the vaccine. Supporters said that provides officials enough time to study side effects.