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HPV Vaccine Drawing Attention On All Sides

The American Cancer Society estimates that 274,000 women worldwide die every year from cervical cancer.
by Amber Corrin
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Sep 19, 2006
Michigan legislators are expected to vote Wednesday to require all girls entering sixth grade to receive the new human papillomavirus vaccination. It would be the first state to make the vaccine mandatory -- and the opening shot in the battle to require it nationwide.

The vaccine against the cancer-causing sexually transmitted disease was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year. Despite the fact it could prevent 70 percent of all cervical cancers, some groups object to requiring vaccination of preteen girls because HPV is acquired through sexual contact.

Experts say by age 50, 80 percent of women have contracted HPV, according to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

"This vaccination will protect not just from infectious diseases but from cancer ... this is a new era in immunization and preventative medicine," said John Clymer, president of Partnership for Prevention, a non-profit health policy research organization.

It's also a major public-health issue, according to Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, the Michigan legislator sponsoring the mandatory vaccine bill.

"We're putting the infrastructure in place now to get this on the radar screen, so it can be implemented down the road. We're adding the HPV vaccine to a list of required immunizations, falling in line with federal advisories," Hammerstrom said.

Not everyone agrees that the vaccine should be mandated in the public school system; because of the sexually transmitted nature of HPV, some parents may find themselves struggling to explain the vaccine to their kids, as even proponents acknowledge.

Some conservative groups fear such a requirement may send the wrong message.

"We oppose any use of ... mandates as a way to coerce parents into obtaining a vaccine," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, a conservative non-profit Christian lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Michigan.

"Because this isn't transmitted through casual contact like measles or mumps" -- i.e., in the classroom -- "the choice should rest with the parents," Sprigg said. "School-imposed mandates should protect children from being exposed in the classroom."

"We strongly encourage the healthcare community to clearly communicate the medically accurate fact that only abstaining from sexual contact with infected individuals can fully protect someone from the wide range of sexually transmitted disease," said Moira Gaul, a policy analyst for FRC.

Hammerstrom, for one, disagrees with the sentiment that adolescents shouldn't be getting the vaccine -- or the information.

"This is a vaccine to prevent 70 percent of cervical cancer; it's not birth control. Parents are going to have this conversation with their kids anyway," she said. "How they explain it to their kids is up to the parent, with as much or as little information as they want."

In Washington, D.C., the Partnership to End Cervical Cancer held a news conference last week to spread the word. For members of the panel, it was an occasion to herald a modern medical success and potentially save thousands of lives.

"These diseases do not discriminate, whether you're rich or poor, young or old, black or white. If you're a woman, you're at risk," said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., part of the panel and a cancer survivor.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 274,000 women worldwide die every year from cervical cancer.

Source: United Press International

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