HEALTH

Bill to end HPV vaccine mandate passes Virginia panel

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A bill that would end a state mandate for girls to receive vaccinations against a virus that can later lead to cervical cancer sailed through a Republican-dominated House committee on a largely partisan vote Tuesday.

Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell and sponsor of the bill, criticized the current law under which parents or guardians opt girls out of receiving the vaccine against the human papillomavirus before they reach sixth grade.

"'Opt-out' is never a choice for parents in my mind because there are too many times that the parents really are not aware," Byron said in advocating for the repeal. "The best choice is to leave it entirely with the parents and not have government get in the middle of it."

Byron and other conservatives have targeted the mandate for repeal for several years. Besides their claim that it usurps parental discretion, they also say it facilitates casual premarital sex.

But Del. Chris Stolle of Virginia Beach, a gynecologist and the lone Republican dissenter on the Health Welfare and Institutions Committee, said 6.2 million women a year contract the virus nationally. Of those, he said, 10,000 develop cervical cancer, and about 4,000 of them die.

"We mandate a whole slew of immunizations for our children ... and we don't leave it up to the parents," Stolle said, noting required shots for polio, tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis. "What's the difference between HPV and these other things that we mandate?"

Byron said those diseases could be contracted from casual contact in public settings and HPV is spread through sexual intercourse. She also noted that influenza kills people every year, but the state has never mandated flu shots.

Stolle also pointed out that nothing forces girls to receive the vaccine under present law, whether parents act to exempt them or not. "What this mandate does is (require) that we inform parents that HPV vaccination is available for their children. It ensures that the vaccination will be provided by insurance companies and the state and by the health departments. By removing the mandate, all we're doing is not sending a letter."

The 14-8 committee vote sends the measure to the House floor for a vote as early as Friday.

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