WEB EXTRA: Public health professors urge legislators to mandate HPV vaccine

GW professors urged legislatures nationwide to mandate vaccinations for a cancer-causing virus in public schools.

Soon after the release of Gardasil, a vaccine for the human papilloma virus, the D.C. City Council and other state and local governments began introducing legislation mandating the drug. HPV is a virus that has been shown to cause certain types of cervical cancer. Professors in the School of Public Health and Health Services released a report in response to the growing number of state and local governments mandating vaccinations in public schools.

State laws requiring immunization in schools are aimed to reduce disease and racial disparities in vaccine coverage, the report found. GW Medical Center spokesperson Sarah Freeman said in a news release that the report is part of a new project at SPHHS “which will include publication of numerous… papers generated within 72 hours of the release of an important public health-related critical story.”

The project is supported by the Public Health and Policy Group of Pfizer Inc., which manages public-private partnership programs and advances public health research to establish Pfizer as a global leader in public health innovation, according to the pharmaceutical company’s Web site.

Alexandra Stewart, an assistant research professor at SPHHS, helped write the report, titled “HPV Vaccine: Recommendation or Mandate,” which examines the issues surrounding mandatory HPV vaccination.

“With the new legislative sessions starting all over the country, this issue has gained increased government attention,” Stewart said.

She hopes the report will influence legislators to require HPV vaccinations along with booster shots.

“There is no parent in the world who would withhold a preventive intervention like this once they understand its impact. HPV is a major problem and if we can eliminate it we should do so,” she said. “It is important to recognize individual concerns, but the reality is that this is an important medical breakthrough.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV infects nearly 80 percent of women by age 50. The virus sometimes shows minor symptoms but can go completely undetected, according to the agency’s Web site. Of the women who contract one of the 30 sexually transmitted varieties, only a small percentage will develop cervical cancer, the CDC reported.

Despite the low chance that the virus will progress into cancer, Student Health Services and other health-providers suggest women under the age of 26 receive the vaccine. SHS will answer questions about HPV at the “Love Your Body” Fair Feb. 21 in the Marvin Center.

Gardasil, the HPV vaccine which received government approval in June 2006, is administered in a series of three shots over a six month period. Since the beginning of the fall semester, SHS has offered about 100 female students the series of shots at a price of $450. Many insurance companies do not yet cover the vaccine.

Freshman Amanda Formica, who has received two of the three required HPV vaccine shots, said there is no reason schools should shy from mandating Gardasil.

“This is a public health issue and (the vaccine) should be offered for free,” Formica said. “It’s too expensive for people who are uninsured.”

She added that it is the responsibility of health officials to push for compulsory vaccinations. Formica said opposition to vaccination should be focused in other areas.

“There should be less controversy over this vaccine than there is over the distribution of condoms,” she said.

Some parents have raised concerns about heightened sexual promiscuity if the vaccine is distributed through schools. The D.C. Council’s legislation, which was proposed by GW law professor and Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh includes an opt-out provision for disapproving parents.

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