All sides agree on go-slow approach to HPV vaccineby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Some advocates of mandating the new cervical cancer vaccine for girls won't push the legislation this year, after the state's Health Department released a report suggesting more screenings and education instead. But that doesn't end debate over whether the HPV vaccine should be required, it just delays it.
St. Paul, Minn. — Even people who think the vaccine should be required praised the report.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, favors mandatory requirements and thinks it probably will be required one day, just not now.
Kahn says she'll spend this year instead trying to require schools to pass out educational material on HPV and the vaccine.
The report included such a handout that could be used.
"I have heard from people who are nurses, just looking at the number of people getting the vaccine, that a lot of people do know about it. This would just ensure that the education component is better than it has been," says Kahn.
The state Health Department studied the issue for six months. Officials went to great pains to reiterate their belief that the vaccine is safe and effective, and girls should get more information about it.
But Kris Ehresmann with the department's immunization program says going that next step and making it mandatory isn't necessary.
For one, she says the drug is still fairly new.
"We like to have a vaccine out in the community for a while before we include it in a school law," says Ehresmann. "When a vaccine has been out there for a while, you're less likely to have supply issues."
Ehresmann says another logistical problem is how to pay to cover low-income and underinsured Minnesotans.
The vaccine is made up of three shots that cost about $100 ach.
Covering just 1,800 girls, for example, would cost more than a $500,000, money Ehresmann says the state doesn't have.
Thirdly, she says there's no crisis of cervical cancer in Minnesota. In fact, the rates here are lower than most states.
"I think if we had had a flaming crisis in terms of HPV and cervical cancer, that would have weighed more than some of these other factors," Ehresmann says.
Opponents of mandating the vaccine say it should be a parent's and not the government's choice, especially given that HPV is only passed through sexual contact.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty praised the report Friday on his weekly statewide radio show, though he did get one fact wrong.
"It's not like it's a contagious disease, you know, or a virus that can spread from person to person," Pawlenty said. "We may want to encourage people to get the shot, but the decision makers should be the parents in this circumstance. So, I'm glad our Department of Health made that decision."
Pawlenty's spokesman later clarified the error. HPV is, in fact, contagious and is a virus that can be spread. The spokesman attributed the gaffe to the fact that the governor was live on the radio.
And Kris Ehresmann with the Health Department says the governor was trying to make a good point. She says he was trying to relay the fact that all the other vaccines that Minnesota requires are for diseases kids pass to each other just by being in the same room.
"For me to be able to give you, or vice versa, HPV, we'd have to be doing more than sitting in class taking notes," Ehresmann says.
In case you didn't catch that, she's talking about sex.
The HPV vaccine has been an issue in a lot of places. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that many states have so far required more education on HPV, as Rep. Kahn wants to do.
Others have made the drug available free to low-income residents, or required insurance companies to cover the costs. But very few have actually required the vaccine.
Minnesota officials also say this report only covers the here and now, and conditions in the future might justify a requirement for the vaccine. They say the decision will be reviewed again in about three years.
- All Things Considered, 02/01/2008, 4:49 p.m.