- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

Conservative Christian groups say they support vaccinating female students against a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer as long as parental opt-out provisions remain.

The District, Maryland and Virginia have joined at least eight states in proposing that girls as young as 11 who attend public schools receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Under proposed legislation, it would become one of several required immunizations for public school children in the region.

The American Cancer Society issued guidelines for the vaccine yesterday, including a recommendation that 11- and 12-year-old girls get the series of shots.

The Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family supports the development and availability of HPV vaccines, but opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for public school entry.

“This is not a sexually transmitted infection that a student is going to contract by sitting in the classroom,” said Linda Klepacki, the organization’s analyst for sexual health. “It really is a parental rights issue.”

The conservative District-based Family Research Council supports the vaccine but considers abstinence the best protection against HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Bristol, Tenn.-based Christian Medical & Dental Associations also supports abstinence over vaccination but acknowledges the reality that not all teenagers will abstain from sex.

“There is a better option: abstinence, if young girls will choose that,” said Dr. Gene Rudd, the organization’s senior vice president. “Parents can’t choose that for their children.”

The group supports HPV vaccinations for public school entry as long as state law allows for parental opt-outs, said Dr. Rudd, an obstetrician and gynecologist.

“If the law is there, there is going to be better utilization, and that’s a positive,” he said. “Because there are effective alternatives, parents ought to be able to say no.”

Dr. Rudd added that he would advise parents to have their daughters vaccinated. “I want my granddaughter to get vaccinated,” he said. “There are no-fault reasons she might be exposed, such as assault or marrying someone who has been exposed, and I don’t want her to get the disease.”

About 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women contract HPV at some point in their lives, but the virus usually clears up on its own without ever showing symptoms, the CDC said.

At least 80 percent of women contract the virus by age 50, and about 6.2 million Americans are infected with HPV each year, the CDC said.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 11,150 cases of cervical cancer in the United States this year, and that 3,670 women will die from the disease.

All 50 states and the District allow vaccination opt-outs for medical reasons, and every state except Mississippi and West Virginia allows religious exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Twenty states allow philosophical or personal opt-outs, according to the NCSL. Maryland, Virginia and the District do not allow such exemptions.

A bill sponsored by D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, and council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, also calls for an opt-out provision, but doesn’t include details on exemption procedures.

A bill sponsored by Maryland Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, doesn’t add an opt-out choice specific to the HPV vaccine because immunization exemptions already are included in the state code, a staff member said.

The bill has received the support of nearly half the state Senate.

The same is true for pending legislation in Virginia, said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican. He has sponsored a bill that included opt-out provisions but is scheduled to be amended Tuesday.

“We have existing exemptions in the law,” Mr. Hamilton said.

The only FDA-approved HPV vaccine — Gardasil, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc. — protects against two strains of the virus that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and two strains that cause 90 percent of genital warts, according to the FDA.

The vaccine is administered through three shots over six months.

Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline also is developing an HPV vaccine.

The American Cancer Society’s guidelines say that girls as young as 9 may be vaccinated. The guidelines also recommend the vaccine for girls 13 to 18, to catch up on missed shots or to complete the series of shots.

The complete guidelines are published in the latest issue of the ACS journal “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.”

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