- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

RICHMOND — Legislation to require schoolgirls to receive a vaccine for the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer sailed through the General Assembly, but it could face scrutiny when it gets to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

The House and Senate passed bills to require all girls entering the sixth grade to get the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Parents could review information about the vaccine and exempt their daughters.

“He’s supportive of expanded access to this vaccine and thinks efforts to fight cervical cancer are critically important, but he would like to fully review the opt-out provisions that are in this legislation,” Kevin Hall, Mr. Kaine’s spokes-man, said yesterday without elaborating on the governor’s concerns.

Virginia’s legislature is the first to pass a bill mandating the vaccine for girls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas Gov. Rick Perry sidestepped the legislature and ordered the shots for girls there, but lawmakers are considering overriding that order.

Bills were introduced in about 20 states to require the vaccine, but some have backed off because of concerns over the vaccine’s safety and protests from conservatives that requiring it promotes promiscuity and erodes parents’ rights.

Merck & Co., maker of the only federally approved HPV vaccine, had for months bankrolled lobbying efforts nationwide to push for mandating the vaccine, but said Tuesday it would immediately suspend the campaign after opponents questioned its motives.

The New Jersey company stands to make billions if its vaccine, Gardasil, is required for schoolgirls nationwide. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over a six-month period at a cost of $360.

Mr. Kaine set aside $1.4 million in his budget to expand the availability of the vaccine at local health departments, Mr. Hall said, but the governor wants to take a closer look at any measure that requires the vaccine even if parents can opt out.

Mr. Kaine has until late March to either amend the bill, sign it into law or veto it.

Exemptions already exist for parents to decide not to get required vaccinations for their children based on religious or medical objections.

Opponents also have expressed concerns that it may be too soon to require the vaccines.

The federal government approved Gardasil in June and suggested it be given to girls before they become sexually active because HPV is contracted by sexual or skin-to-skin contact.

A handful of drugs — including Merck’s painkiller Vioxx — have been pulled when side effects emerged after they were in wide use.

Supporters argue that the vaccinations would not be required until the 2009 school year, so that gives sufficient time to study any side effects before Virginia’s girls are vaccinated.

Yesterday, the National Vaccine Information Center — a group of parents worried that vaccines harm some children — issued a report detailing the vaccine’s side effects, such as dizziness, fainting and numbness. The analysis was based on 385 reports made to the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System over the last half of 2006.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, tried unsuccessfully to block the bill in the House by adding provisions that would have required parents be told about possible side effects and exempted the state from immunity if a woman sued because the vaccine made her infertile.

“I’m appalled that the members here did not want to warn parents that this thing has not been tested for the effect it might have on a woman’s future fertility,” Mr. Marshall said yesterday. “Can you imagine if a significant number of these young girls end up permanently sterile and can’t have a baby?”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have said the reports aren’t cause for concern.

About 99 percent of the cases of cervical cancer, which kills 10 women a day nationwide, are linked to HPV, according to the CDC.

Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican and sponsor of one of the bills, said Mr. Kaine hadn’t expressed concerns about the vaccine to him.

“I think this legislation is a cautious approach because of the delayed enactment date, and I think it’s cautious because we do have the parental opt-out,” Mr. Hamilton said.

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