The Virginia Senate on Monday killed a bill that would have eliminated the state’s five-year-old requirement that girls receive the vaccine against the human papillomavirus before enrolling in sixth grade.
After a brief debate the Senate voted 22-17 —with two Republicans joining all Democrats —to postpone the legislation until 2013.
After hours of debate, the equally divided chamber postponed votes on several contentious bills, including one that would require women to undergo an invasive ultrasound before abortions and another ending tenure-related job protections for public school teachers.
The HPV bill had passed the House this year — as well as in previous years — but died at the hands of the Democratic-controlled Senate. Supporters had hoped they had a better chance at repeal now that the GOP control the Senate.
Supporters of lifting the mandate said parents, not the government, should decide whether girls should be vaccinated. But supporters of the mandate said opponents were just worried that the vaccine encouraged sex among teenagers, because the virus is sexually transmitted.
“The source of this threat is not sex. It is a virus,’’ said Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke), whose sister-in-law recently died from HPV. “Whatever we do in this body we should do based on reason and not based on rigid ideology.”
Sen.Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) made the motion that legislation be referred back to committee and postponed for the year. Republican Sens. John Watkins (Chesterfield) and Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) voted to delay the bill.
“One of the problems you have is when people are getting involved in areas that should really be left to the medical field,’’ Saslaw said.
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 has followed Virginia and required the vaccination. 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.
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.
Medical experts widely agree that the HPV vaccine is a safe way to protect women from a type of cancer that kills 4,000 of them a year in the United States. More than 35 million Americans have received the vaccine with no pattern of serious side effects, federal health officials have said.