Bill to require vaccination of girls is pulled

Timing `not right' to force HPV drug in Md., says Kelley

January 31, 2007|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

A bill that would require middle-school girls to get a new vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer is being withdrawn over concerns that children already have a tough time getting all the required immunizations.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, said yesterday that she plans to pull a bill she sponsored that calls for all sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated by September 2008. She said some parents and educators were worried about an added requirement after thousands of students, in grades six through nine, were turned away from school this month for failure to get immunized against chickenpox and hepatitis B, as recently required.

More than a dozen states are considering legislation requiring school-age girls to receive the vaccine for human papilloma virus, or HPV. While backers hail the vaccine as a way to nearly eradicate cervical cancer, some medical experts say the state mandates are premature. The Sun reported Monday that some watchdog groups have questioned lobbying efforts by the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., which makes the only vaccine on the market, called Gardasil.

Kelley said she was not aware of "those external politics."

"The timing is just not right," she said, adding that she will likely introduce the bill again next year. "I decided to do this at a time when things have settled down and we can approach this in a more deliberative manner."

Del. Daniel K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and one of two physicians in the legislature, said it is too soon to require the HPV vaccination. Because it hasn't been in widespread use, he said, the long-term effects aren't known. He also said HPV is different from communicable diseases such as chickenpox that are spread through the air.

That stance has been echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends the HPV vaccination but stops short of backing mandates.

"We should just wait a little bit and see how it works out and encourage people to get the vaccine through their physicians and make sure their insurance is going to cover it," Morhaim said.

Kelley said she became aware of the HPV vaccine through Women in Government, a nonpartisan organization of female legislators that supports requiring vaccinations and that also has accepted donations from Merck.

Susan Crosby, president of the group, said its stance is part of a broader fight against cervical cancer and is not dictated by Merck.

But watchdog groups such as the Center for Political Accountability said the relationship gives Merck a platform to promote its product. "It makes it appear there is broader support," said Bruce F. Freed, the center's co-director. "It becomes part of the company's lobbying effort."

The Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil in June. The drug protects against strains of HPV that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. A government advisory panel has recommended that all girls get the shots at 11 and 12, before they are likely to be sexually active.

Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, executive director of MedChi, a professional society for doctors, said that even though his group didn't now support a mandate, he was "disappointed" that Kelley intends to withdraw the bill.

"More kids would have been immunized on the basis of this discussion in our state," he said.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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