Virginia House passes bill to end HPV vaccine mandate

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 22, 2011

RICHMOND - The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Friday that would eliminate the state's 2007 requirement that girls receive the vaccine against the human papillomavirus before enrolling in the sixth grade.

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.

After emotional debates in several states since, including suggestions that vaccinations would encourage girls to have sex, only the District of Columbia has followed Virginia and required the vaccine. Both jurisdictions offer liberal opt-out policies that allow parents to decline to have their daughters vaccinated.

The bill to eliminate Virginia's mandate is unlikely to be approved by the Democratic-controlled state Senate. But the House's strong rejection of the vaccine requirement - just four years after it was approved overwhelmingly in the same chamber - is a sign of public uneasiness with the vaccination and of the resonance of arguments about government overreach in a state with an active tea party movement.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and at least half of all 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.

The Republican-led House adopted the bill 61 to 33 Friday, after a lengthy and impassioned debate that chipped away at the usual partisan lines Thursday.

Supporters of lifting the mandate cited data from the CDC and the New England Journal of Medicine that showed risks of adverse reactions to the vaccine. They said parents, not the government, should decide whether girls should be vaccinated.

"We just want to make sure parents are evaluating the risks of what they're giving their daughters, and not a legislative body," said Del. Kathy J. Byron (R-Lynchburg), who is sponsoring the measure, House Bill 1419.

The fact that so few other states have followed Virginia's lead on the issue should give legislative leaders pause, Byron said.

"The medical community is still undecided," she said.

Supporters of lifting the mandate also reminded lawmakers that the measure passed in 2007 with a good amount of lobbying from the vaccine's manufacturer.

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