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Push for mandatory cervical cancer vaccine in NY
Newsday Staff Writer
February 11, 2007
In the-not-too-distant future, New York schoolgirls may have to line up for vaccinations against cervical cancer if a state assemblywoman's proposed legislation and Gov. Eliot Spitzer's projected budget expenditures come to fruition.
State Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) plans to introduce a measure this week, mandating the three-shot regimen for girls. Her legislation comes on the heels of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's executive order a week ago that mandated the vaccine for 11- and 12-year-old girls in his state. Nearly 20 states are considering similar legislation, though the measure has drawn criticism from anti-vaccine groups and religious conservative organizations.
"What happened in Texas is terrific," Paulin said Friday. "In New York we need to pass legislation to accomplish the same goal." She said a companion Senate bill will be introduced.
Marketed as Gardasil, the vaccine is manufactured by Merck & Co. and targets girls and women 9 to 26. Doctors say it provides its strongest protection when administered before girls become sexually active. Gardasil isn't cheap. The injections cost $360, making it one of the most expensive vaccinations ever developed.
Last June, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials approved the vaccine following a series of clinical studies. Research had shown the shots effectively thwarted infection with two strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and another two strains that cause 90 percent of genital warts.
Cervical cancer, which is caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, is the second leading cause of death in women globally, affecting an estimated 470,000 women worldwide, and killing 233,000 annually. In the United States, about 9,710 women contract cervical cancer each year, and 3,700 die from it. The CDC estimates that 80 percent of young women are infected five years after becoming sexually active, but most of them effectively fight off HPV.
Paulin wants the vaccine required for school attendance but wants the state health department to set the age.
Christine Anderson, spokeswoman for Gov. Eliot Spitzer said $1.5 million has been included in the $120 billion executive budget proposal "to promote and expand access to the vaccine" for low-income teens and women. Anderson said the governor hopes vaccine-access funds will be part of a multi-year project. If approved, the money would provide the vaccine to an estimated 4,000 teens and women a year.
"In terms of whether [Gardasil] will be mandated is something that will be looked at too," Anderson said.
Despite the flurry of interest by state governments, Gardasil remains a focus of controversy.
In Texas, some state lawmakers want Perry to rescind the executive order. Vaccinating children against a sexually transmitted virus has riled religious conservatives and anti-vaccine groups.
Organizations such as the Family Research Council, with offices in Michigan and Washington, D.C., announced last year it welcomes new methods of protecting women's health and is not opposed to HPV vaccinations. But the group said it opposes state intervention.
Pharmaceutical-industry watchdog Vera Sharav, president and founder of the Alliance for Human Research Protection in Manhattan, said it's unfair the vaccination burden has been placed on girls and women. Scientists, she said, have found the vaccine to be effective in boys and men, who also carry and transmit the virus. But she questions whether the vaccines should be given to children, regardless of gender.
"Is this a way to spend public funds?" Sharav asked. "This is being promoted as if it's saving girls from cervical cancer that is imminent. Cervical cancer has been declining for years."
But Heather Boonstra, a health policy expert with the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, said as a public health policy, vaccinating schoolgirls makes sense. "Certainly it is one of the most efficient ways to reach large numbers of people, which in the case of this vaccine you would want," Boonstra said.
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