Thursday, October 05, 2006

HPV Vaccine Legislation Pending in Michigan

Greetings from the University of Mississippi, where I’m visiting this year from Drake University. I’m glad to be part of the BioLaw team and look forward to contributing thoughts about science and education. Recently, I’ve been writing about teaching evolution, creationism, and intelligent design in public schools; if you’re interested, see here, for starters.

Today, though, I’d like to take a different approach to “science and education” and comment about a bill pending in the Michigan legislature. This bill attempts to take advantage of an amazing advance in science—a vaccine that can prevent the transmission of certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), the viral source of about 70% of cervical cancer. The legislatiors proposing the bill hope to achieve a widespread public health impact by requiring all sixth grade girls to receive the vaccine. The bill passed the Michigan Senate by a vote of 36 to 1. Having moved to the Michigan House, it has been sitting in committee for about two weeks. Michigan is the first state to consider such legislation.

Of course, this bill has generated a significant amount of public comment (see the Michigan legislature’s website) because HPV is nearly always transmitted via sexual activity, so opponents view the vaccine as encouraging children to become sexually active. So, why require 11 year olds to be vaccinated? Well, the vaccine’s creators say it should be administered before an individual becomes sexually active in order to be most effective. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and other sources, slightly less than half of graduating high school seniors report already having been sexually active.

This vaccine is just the latest in a line of scientific advances that have led from the 1940s, when cervical cancer caused more deaths in women than even breast cancer, to today, when cervical cancer often can be treated with great success, if diagnosed early. About 700,000 cases of cervical “precancer” are identified and treated in American girls and women every year. In this same population, about 10,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually. Each year, about 4,000 American girls and women die of cervical cancer. The rates of cervical cancer and precancer gradually are on the rise, though.

Requiring that schoolchildren be vaccinated against a host of easily communicable diseases is standard (diphtheria, polio, tetanus, smallpox, chicken pox, typhoid, measles, mumps, rubella), though of course HPV differs as a general matter because it is transmitted through intimate contact. Also standard is that parents who have religious objections to immunizing their children, in other words, religious objections to immunizations per se, not to particular immunizations, are allowed an exemption from the immunization requirement. I wonder, though, whether the general religious exemption would change form in the face of parental protests, allowing parents to pick and choose which immunizations they found objectionable for religious reasons?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you please cite some authority for the notion that existing religious exemption schemes require parents to have "blanket objections" to all immunizations per se? I know of several pro-lifers, myself included, who are fine with many vaccines, but object to vaccines derived from aborted fetuses. (I don't mean to argue the merits of that stance, only to note that it's been a common source of vaccine-specific objections, long before HPV came along.) I've looked at a few different state laws, and don't see any that require a blanket objection. Could you please help me out?

10/06/2006 5:46 PM  
Blogger annulla said...

Interesting thought. Recently I've met a few people who've opted to keep their kids out of school rather than taking them for the required immunizations because they believe that vaccines are "bad." I don't know the rationale for their beliefs, but I have the feeling it is some sort of new-agey, quasi-mystical movement.

10/07/2006 1:22 AM  

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