General Assembly, CDC Diverge on HPV Vaccine

While Virginia is moving to repeal the requirement that girls get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, the federal government and a major medical association are urging just the opposite: that boys as well as girls receive the vaccine.

By Pia Talwar of Capital News Service

While Virginia is moving to repeal its requirement that girls get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, the federal government and a major medical association are urging just the opposite: that boys as well as girls receive the vaccine.

Since 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended HPV vaccinations for girls. On Feb. 1, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that boys also be routinely vaccinated against the virus, a leading cause of genital warts and cervical cancer. This follows a vote in October by a CDC advisory panel, which also recommended that boys receive the three-dose vaccine series against HPV.

The CDC advises that 13- to 21-year-old males and 13- to 26-year-old females get the HPV vaccination if they have not already done so. Men age 22 to 26 “may be vaccinated.” HPV is a virus spread through sexual contact. About half of all sexually active adults will become infected by HPV in their lifetime. Most clear the infection on their own. There are more than 100 strains of the virus. The vaccine targets the strains most likely to cause disease. Because of the health benefits, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law in 2007 mandating that girls receive the first dose of the vaccine before entering sixth grade. The law contains a liberal waiver policy: Parents can have their daughters forgo the vaccine after reviewing information describing the link between HPV and cancer.

Some Virginia legislators have fought the statute since its adoption. They say parents, not the government, should decide whether their children get vaccinated against HPV. Some of the law’s opponents argue that the HPV vaccine has not been adequately tested; others contend that it might encourage sexual activity. This legislative session, the opponents are on the verge of overturning the 2007 law.

In January, the Virginia House of Delegates, on a 62-34 vote, approved a bill to repeal the vaccination requirement for sixth-grade girls. House Bill 1112 is being sponsored by eight Republicans, led by Delegates Kathy Byron of Lynchburg and Tim Hugo of Centreville. On Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee narrowly endorsed HB 1112, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The committee’s vote was 8-7, with Republicans favoring the measure and Democrats opposing it. The bill has progressed through the assembly despite the medical community’s recommendations that the vaccination program be expanded.

Experts have found increasing evidence that the vaccine is highly effective when given at age 11 or 12. Pediatricians feel it is fair for boys to share the responsibility for preventing transmission of the virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ revised 2012 standard immunization schedule for children reflects current recommendations for use of vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The academy’s recommendations been approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC and by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In late January, the recommendation for boys and men to get the HPV vaccine increased after a report that nearly 7 percent of U.S. teens and adults have oral HPV. The report said men were three times more likely to have oral HPV than women. Vaccines such as Merck’s Gardasil and Glaxo SmithKline’s Cervarix are available. They have been tested for their effectiveness against the viruses that lead to cervical, vulvar and anal cancers, according to the FDA.

 

stock photo by stevendepolo

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