- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

The D.C. Council approved a bill yesterday requiring young girls to be given a vaccine against a virus known to cause cervical cancer.

In response to public objections to requiring the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the council approved amendments to the bill that will delay the effective date by one year.

The city will use the time to educate the public about the vaccine and to make it easy for parents or guardians to opt out.

The legislation, sponsored by council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, originally called for girls to be inoculated beginning next year. Instead, starting in fall 2009, girls entering the sixth grade must prove that they have received the vaccine, unless their parents decide they don’t want their children vaccinated.

“Vaccinating against HPV will save lives — period,” Mr. Catania said. “And while I encourage all District parents to have their child vaccinated, the legislation passed today is very sensitive to the wishes of parents who choose to opt out.”

The council approved the bill 7-3. Council members Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat; Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican; and Harry “Tommy” Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, dissented. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, abstained.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty previously endorsed the legislation, and Mr. Catania said he expects the mayor to sign it.

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed a similar bill, making Virginia the lone state to pass a law requiring girls to receive an HPV vaccine. Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico Democrat, vetoed mandatory HPV vaccine legislation this month. In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry is under fierce criticism from the state legislature over his decision to make the vaccine mandatory through an executive order he issued in February.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62 District residents died from cervical cancer from 1999 to 2004. Nationally, about 10,000 women die each year from the disease.

The only HPV vaccine currently on the market, Gardasil, is made by Merck Co., which has been criticized for its lobbying of legislators acrossthe country to introduce legislation to require the vaccination. Merck stands to make billions of dollars from the vaccine, which costs $360 for a regimen of three shots.

Gardasil is known to be 100 percent effective against two strains of the HPV virus, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. However, Jennifer Allen, a spokeswoman for Merck, confirmed that the vaccine lasts five years and the company continues to research its longevity.

Critics of the vaccine point to its cost and how long it will guard against HPV as reasons it should not be mandated.

“It is far too early for this vaccine to be mandatory. We don’t know about its long-term effectiveness or safety,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities.

“A response to the rush to mandate could backfire on us with public dissatisfaction and serve as a deterrent to all vaccinations.”

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