Senate panel keeps HPV requirement in place

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RICHMOND A Senate committee has killed a bill that would have eliminated the requirement for girls entering the sixth grade to receive the human papillomavirus vaccine.

The bills patron, Sen. Ken T. Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, was disappointed, saying the decision was made simply to score political points.

Unfortunately, they had a blind desire to appeal to their political base and didnt hear the rationality of the argument, Cuccinelli said.

Experts say the vaccination, known as Gardasil, protects against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that causes 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts cases.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law sponsored by Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, R-Newport News, requiring girls to get the vaccine to enter sixth grade. Virginia is the only state with such a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The group said that at least 17 states have passed HPV-related legislation, such as encouraging girls to get the vaccine.

Cuccinelli said Virginias requirement is unnecessary and could be harmful to young girls. He believes giving the vaccine to sixth graders is pointless because the vaccine lasts only five years and the average age for women to contract HPV is 32 to 35.

The vaccine is administered in a series of three shots over a six-month period.  The first shot is required of all girls before entering the sixth grade. However, there is a way to opt out.  

Gov. Tim Kaine amended the law, allowing parents to exempt their children from receiving the vaccination.  The only requirement is that parents must review materials approved by the Board of Medicine describing the link between HPV and cervical cancer before refusing the inoculation.

The opt-out option was not enough to satisfy critics of the HPV law. Some parents have expressed concerns about the vaccine and the long-term effects it could have on their children.  Some say the vaccine has not been tested long enough. Others, such as Cuccinelli, argue that sixth graders are not likely to contract HPV.

Another criticism of the vaccine is the expense.  Each shot can cost up to $120, which may not be covered by insurance.  However, local health departments will administer the vaccine for free if the girl is 11 or 12 years old or entering the sixth grade.

This legislative session, Cuccinelli sponsored Senate Bill 722, which would have removed completely the requirement for girls to receive the HPV immunization.

Two weeks ago, the Senate Health and Education Committee voted to pass by indefinitely, or kill, Cuccinellis proposal. The vote was 12-3.

Cuccinelli said legislators are missing the target on the issue.  He said loyalties to political parties prevented his bill from passing.

Cuccinelli has not decided whether to bring the bill back next session. 

Im not going to say I wont, he said.

Note: Here is how members of the Senate Health and Education Committee voted on Jan. 31 on the motion to pass by indefinitely SB 722:
YEAS — Houck, Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Quayle, Edwards, Whipple, Blevins, Locke, Barker, Northam, Miller, J.C. — 12.
NAYS — Martin, Newman, Ruff — 3.

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