- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sandi Garmany-Fall decided definitely not. Janet Reissman didn’t hesitate; she decided definitely yes.

Both D.C. residents are mothers of a young daughter mandated by D.C. law to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. Both said they had “strong feelings” about their decisions. Not everyone is so sure.

“I don’t think the government has a right to tell us that we should vaccinate our kids against [sexual] behavior,” Ms. Garmany-Fall said. “It’s more important to educate girls about that behavior as opposed to giving them a drug that may even exacerbate it.”

Ms. Reissman, on the other hand, said, “Preventing a disease that we know we can prevent that leads to death, that’s a no-brainer for me. [Cervical cancer] is one thing I can cross off and worry about the million other things on the list.”

For parents who still aren’t certain about vaccinating their 10- to 13- year-old daughters against HPV, this evening’s free educational forum at the Reeves Center, “Protecting Our Girls,” should provide some answers.

Lawmakers in the District and Virginia voted this summer to require girls to be vaccinated. Maryland is among 11 states that have formed task forces to study the issue. Two states voted to prohibit the vaccine.

Sponsored by the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the D.C. Women’s Agenda and the National Women’s Health Network, tonight’s proposed agenda includes differing opinions about the vaccine and detailed information about new laws while providing an opportunity for parents to share their thoughts.

“This is a particularly important issue because only Virginia and the District have mandated it,” said Debbie Billet-Roumell, coordinator of the D.C. Women’s Agenda, an advocacy coalition for women and girls under the auspices of Wider Opportunities for Women and the Employment Justice Center. “There is also controversy surrounding the safety of the drugs, and according to Judicial Watch three deaths have been reported as a result of the vaccine.”

Susan F. Wood will moderate the panel discussion. She was director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health until she resigned in 2005 because of the delay in approving of the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B.

Community organizer Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture will represent the community group, No HPV Shots for Our Girls, which formed in adamant opposition to the D.C. Council’s legislation. Speaking in favor of the HPV vaccine is women’s advocate and human rights lawyer Lisalyn R. Jacob. Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the American Social Health Association, and Candi Meridith, a public heath educator who handles prevention programs for Kaiser Permanente, round out the panel.

“Information is the key, isn’t it?” said Ms. Garmany-Fall, a Columbia Heights resident. She is going to the forum because “I want to be in on what’s going to be happening with the decision about my daughter’s body.” Her daughter, Aziza, just turned 7.

A business trip will interfere with Ms. Reissman’s attendance at the forum. Her 11-year-old daughter, Sage, was vaccinated earlier this year. The vaccine is given through an expensive series of three shots over six months. Her insurer covered the cost, but she would have paid for it anyway, she said.

Getting insurance companies to pay for the vaccine is the main reason Ms. Reissman, a communications official with a nonprofit association who lives in 16th Street Heights, supports the mandatory measure in the District. She is concerned that “a rich white woman” can afford the drug, while poor and minority women may not, which could lead to racial and economic disparities in those who develop cervical cancer in the future.

Although Ms. Reissman discussed the vaccine with her daughter, she said did not bring up sexual activity associated with the virus because she thought it was unnecessary. Besides, Ms. Reissman said, “she’s too young for that.”

It is important to note that D.C. parents will be able to “opt out” of the HPV vaccine requirement before the law takes effect at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year. The preteens would need proof of inoculation or a parental waiver before being allowed to enter sixth grade in public schools.

“We’re not being forced, we’re being strongly encouraged,” to vaccinate, said Ms. Reissman, noting that she was following the advice of medical professionals and scientists who approved the inoculation.

However, Ms. Garmany-Fall still is unsure how or under what category, such as religion, parents can refuse the vaccination.

Get the facts.

Tonight’s forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Reeves Center, 2000 14th St. NW. For more information, e-mail dbroumell@wowonline.org, or call 202/464-1596.

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