“The parents that I’ve spoken to about it are all enthusiastic,” says Lisa Goff, a Charlottesville mother of two daughters who are in sixth and ninth grades. “We’re going to do it,” whether it’s mandated or not, she says.
She’s talking about a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been found in recent studies to cause cervical cancer. Pharmaceutical giant Merck (www.merck.com) got FDA approval for its vaccine, named Gardasil, and is lobbying legislators to require it. Both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly passed bills in February mandating that school-age girls get vaccinated against HPV. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia are also considering similar measures.
Lisa Goff, a Charlottesville mother of two daughters, has no problem with the new HPV vaccine. "This is not going to get in the way of parents teaching values about chastity," she says. "This is a health tool."
Many parents are overjoyed about preventing a virus that causes cancer. But since HPV is a commonly known sexually transmitted disease, requiring the vaccine in schools may be tricky.
Eileen Gomez, school nurse program manager for Albemarle County schools, says, “This cervical thing, I think it will be more controversial than any [vaccine] we’ve ever done.” Gomez’s department handles the paperwork that requires students to show either proof of their vaccinations or the forms that let them opt out, an option built into the State legislation.
Dr. Lilian Peake, director of the local health department, says typically a vaccine will be required, then lawmakers will work out the regulations for who administers it and who pays if students can’t afford it. The HPV vaccine requires three shots over time and costs $360. Peake isn’t yet sure how the local health department will be affected.
Another group has a stake—lobbyists. Merck has donated more than $10,000 to the campaigns of two legislators who sponsored the bill in the General Assembly, Delegate Phillip Hamilton, R-Newport News, and Senator Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County. If Merck is to make hundreds of millions on its vaccine, timing matters. GlaxoSmithKline (www.gsk.com) is expected to roll out its own brand of HPV vaccine soon, The Washington Post reports.
Still, local parents don’t see a downside. “Any public health vaccination is a way of making sure that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle,” Goff says. “It’s one less thing for parents to have to remember.”
For more information about Virginia campaign contributions, go to:
C-VILLE welcomes news tips from readers. Send them to email@example.com.