Last year, Virginia joined Texas as the only states to require sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a move that outraged social conservatives in both places. Now Texas has backed out of its requirement, and in Virginia, legislators are trying to push back requirement’s start date, or kill it altogether.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 10 of the 30 strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV virus is contracted through sexual contact.
The required HPV vaccination’s term in legislative purgatory has left local schools in a wait-and-see mode. Beth Baptist, the director of special education and student services for Charlottesville City Schools, says that the school system is holding off on giving parents vaccine information until a date is set for its requirement.
“Some parents have gone ahead and given us documentation,” says Baptist. “But we were really waiting until it was definite as to when we would be required to do it before we started sending out information about it.”
Two bills that would have removed the requirement for the vaccine have been killed in committee. A third bill would extend the starting date of the requirement from its original date, October 2008, to October 2010. The House passed that bill on January 21, referring it to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
Since the General Assembly passed the law, it has received a vicious backlash. Of course, requiring 12- and 13-year-old girls to be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease was akin to sticking your arm in a political woodchipper. But there is also the issue of the vaccination itself.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck’s Gardasil, the first vaccine to gain approval. That February, the Associated Press reported that Texas Governor Rick Perry, who had just required HPV vaccinations for all girls entering sixth grade, had accepted $5,000 from Merck’s political action committee the same day that Perry’s chief of staff met with key aides about the vaccine.
Perry’s office has denied any wrongdoing. This May, Perry declined to veto a bill that reversed his earlier order to require vaccinations.
Virginia, however, has not yet reversed course. And with both bills calling for reversal killed in committee, it seems that if any changes are made to the vaccination requirement, they will only extend its start date. This leaves school administrators like Baptist in what she calls a “holding pattern.”
Baptist says she knows that if and when the requirement goes into effect, it will be a sensitive issue, and that she will be saddled with the large task of informing parents about the vaccine and how they can opt out of the requirement.
“It is looking at a long-term prevention for students who become sexually active,” she says. “When you add in that piece of it, that is something the parents need to look at and talk with their children. It’s a whole different philosophy base than some of the other shots.”
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