ATLANTA -- For a time, Georgia was poised to become the latest state to require preteen girls to be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer.
A powerful state Republican lawmaker proposed making the vaccine mandatory for girls entering sixth grade, and the governor included $4.3 million in his budget to make it available to some 13,000 girls whose family's insurance policies wouldn't cover it.
But state lawmakers rejected the plans after aggressive lobbying by religious conservatives, who argued that vaccinating young girls could promote promiscuity. The human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer is transmitted through sexual contact. Similar proposals were introduced in 23 other states and the District of Columbia, but only Virginia has signed such a mandate into law.
Proposals in many states died or were watered down to only provide parents with educational materials instead of requiring the vaccine. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order requiring vaccinations for sixth-grade girls, but the Legislature then passed a bill blocking the order. Over the past several months, a vaccine that once was hailed as a breakthrough to prevent cancer deaths has become embroiled in some of the nation's most politically charged issues: teen sex, parental control, state mandates, a backlash against vaccines, and a suspicion of drug companies.
"It encapsulates so many issues that are at the core of politics and health policy right now," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The vaccine Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June 2006. The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices followed with a recommendation that all girls be vaccinated at age 11 or 12. The three-dose treatment costs $360.
Cervical cancer kills 10 women a day in the United States and one in four US women ages 14 to 59 is infected with HPV, according to a recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Gardasil is not a magic bullet, it protects against the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. With the vaccine potentially saving many lives, cervical cancer survivor Lori Grice said, she was "completely dumbfounded" that it had become fodder for the culture wars.