TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill introduced in the Florida legislature would make it mandatory for public school students to get vaccinated for human papillomavirus.
Senate Bill 1558 would require the HPV shot for all school children. Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington D.C. have similar mandates for the HPV vaccine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, filed the bill on Jan. 4. A similar measure introduced in 2011 failed.
The vaccine, now given as a series of two shots, is recommended for boys and girls ages 11 and 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control, to prevent against the infection that can cause a range of cancers, including cervical, anal, throat and neck, and vaginal.
"The preference is to start the vaccine series before someone would be exposed to the HPV virus," said Jylmarie Lewis with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.
Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it and can show no symptoms, according to the CDC, which states that the body’s immune system is usually capable of ridding the HPV infection naturally within two years.
Rates of vaccination for HPV have steadily increased in the past decade nationwide but Florida remains among states with some of the lowest rates, according to the CDC, while our state has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer.
"We're close to eliminating a cancer and the first cancer we're going to see eliminated is cervical cancer and the way we do that is to get as many people vaccinated as possible," said Dr. Ann Giuilano, director of the Center for Infection Research at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Giuliano, a researcher who led some of the HPV vaccine clinical trials that lead to its FDA approval, says her son was one of the first males to be vaccinated when the HPV vaccine became available to men.
If passed, the bill would be called the “Women’s Cancer Prevention Act” and take effect on July 1.
The bill would also include procedures for exempting children from immunization requirements. The opt-out is exactly the same as what is current for any other vaccines, which is that you can claim religious or medical reasons and get a waiver from the Health Department, according to a spokesperson for Rodriguez's office.
A 2016 study published in journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found just one in five parents supported making the HPV vaccine a requirement for students, but attitudes shifted if the requirement included an opt-out option.
Shannon Green, a mother of two in Tampa, says her experience with her own childrens' adverse reactions to vaccines is cause for pause on a proposal which would mandate another vaccine for public school children.
"My children have genetic variations, MTHFR gene variations, that I'm actually able to get medical exemptions for," she said, adding it's an exemption which was difficult to secure.
Green says she is not opposed to vaccines but believes it should always be a choice for parents.
"If we cannot make that decision, that's a major problem," she said. "We should be able to say 'yes' or 'no' if there's a risk."
The CDC maintains the HPV vaccine is safe with side effects that can include pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, fever, nausea or muscle or joint pain.
Immunizations are already required for poliomyelitis, diphtheria, rubeola, rubella, pertussis, mumps, tetanus, and other communicable diseases as determined by rules of the Department of Health.
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