Seventh-graders started school this year under a new mandate rarely seen in the country: Girls and boys must be vaccinated against HPV — the human papillomavirus — a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer.
Boston Globe reported:
The move sparked protests from parents in Rhode Island, who resented a school requirement to immunize against a disease that spreads through sex rather than anything that could be transmitted in the classroom.
Despite the uproar, public health officials in Massachusetts are watching Rhode Island’s move. If it succeeds, Massachusetts may want to take the same route to boost the use of a vaccine that has long been a hard sell, said Kevin Cranston, director of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease.
“We’re going to be very intrigued by the Rhode Island mandate experience,” Cranston said.
So far, that experience has included a protest rally, a 2,400-member Facebook group fighting the mandate, a local School Committee asking for repeal, and complaints from across the ideological spectrum — with both the American Civil Liberties Union and a local conservative group in opposition. One opponent’s online video was deemed so threatening that the health director canceled the last two informational forums at the end of August.
But Rhode Island health officials have held firm, believing they can increase the HPV vaccination rate in a state that already boasts the highest rate in the nation.
“Our goal is that, over time, parents will become comfortable and familiar with the benefits of this vaccine,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Rhode Island’s health director. She noted that the hepatitis B vaccine, given to babies, also protects against a sexually transmitted disease.
Until now in Rhode Island, the HPV vaccine was the only immunization recommended by the federal government but not required for school attendance.
As with all required immunizations, Rhode Island parents can exempt their children from the HPV vaccine by signing a form. But even with this opt-out, linking school attendance to vaccination has been shown to increase immunization rates because it encourages visits and discussions with pediatricians, said Alexander-Scott.
HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, head, or neck — but usually not until adulthood. Doctors want to give the vaccine before children are at risk of being infected and when their young immune systems can generate the most robust protection.
Read the full story at the Boston Globe