An Oklahoma state senator has introduced legislation to make vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) mandatory for preteen girls entering sixth grade.
HPV is a family of sexually transmitted viruses. A few strains have been linked to cervical cancer. The newly developed, Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine would inoculate young girls against four strains of HPV.
Senate Bill 487, authored by Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City:
" would begin July 1, 2008, and
" would affect public, private and parochial schools
Similar legislation has been advanced by state legislatures in at least 12 states.
Resisting mandatory immunization are Civil Libertarians and conservative Christians groups like:
" Focus on the Family,
" the American Family Association, and
" Concerned Women for America.
Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbyist group, said, "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."
Oklahoma Libertarian Party Vice-Chair David Splinter said his party would be "opposed to any mandate that is that invasive, especially one involving a forced injection. I know some people are opposed to the vaccination on religious grounds, as well. Their freedom of religion should be respected."
Johnson is afraid important public health issues are being obscured by the debate.
"We have the chance to minimize cervical cancer," Johnson said. "We're talking about preventative measures. Public health and the safety of our children should be the main concern."
Johnson understands a religious commitment to abstinence, but believes there are other factors to consider.
"If you're asking me if a shot encourages promiscuity, then no, it doesn't," she said. "And people also need to consider the possibility that their daughters may marry men who have not waited." "Greg Horton
BY THE NUMBERS
" 20 million " Americans with HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
" 10,000 " Women diagnosed with cervical cancer per year.
" 4,000 " Women dying from cervical cancer per year.
" $360 " Estimated costs of the vaccination per person.
" $50 million " Texas' estimate for immunizing its eligible girls.