ALBANY (TNS) — For several years, a bill to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for school kids has languished in committee each legislative session. But now, New York has tougher vaccine rules, and the bill is getting renewed attention from both sides of the vaccine divide.
“I think because of the change in the law, it made it more visible,” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, said Monday. “If I see an opportunity, I push my bills. And I see an opportunity.”
Last June, amid a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn, the state scrapped religious exemptions for school-mandated vaccines. Measles cases had spread in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where more than half of students at some yeshivas hadn’t been vaccinated. Stricter regulations, which started in September, only allow medical exemptions for unvaccinated students in public, private and parochial schools.
Paulin’s HPV bill would mandate the vaccine series for seventh-graders starting in September 2021.
The shot is recommended to be given around age 11. It is suggested that it be administered to people before they are sexually active for best efficacy. The vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus, which is spread by skin-to-skin contact and can lead to cervical and other cancers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It is two doses, which are given 6 to 12 months apart.
Paulin is expecting a fight, citing the rallies and ongoing lawsuits against New York’s recent vaccine law changes. “There was more support than negative for the change of the law,” she said.
John Gilmore, a member of the board of directors of the New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights, agreed with two things Paulin said: That there is more likelihood the bill will be acted upon, and that there will be a fight.
He pledges to keep pressure on legislators to halt the HPV bill, as well as another Paulin bill that would codify permission for minors to receive the HPV vaccine without parental permission.
“The overarching goal of these bills is to sell vaccines — by mandating new vaccines, by eliminating people’s rights to refuse vaccines, by eliminating parental protection,” said Gilmore, a Long Beach, Long Island, resident. Mandatory school vaccinations in New York include shots to protect against polio, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, chickenpox, pertussis, tetanus, and hepatitis B.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans are infected with HPV. It is spread by engaging in sexual activity with someone who has the viral infection.
The American Cancer Society estimates that four out of five people will get HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, but exposure can also lead other cancers, including anal, vaginal, vulvar, throat, tongue and tonsil.
HPV is often thought of as a bigger risk for females — when it first came on the market, the shot was recommended primarily for girls. But any gender can be affected. “We’ve heard over the years that if we give this shot, girls will become sexually active,” Paulin said. “It’s absurd.”
Gilmore said Paulin is mischaracterizing why people balk at HPV vaccines. “Nobody on our side makes that argument,” Gilmore said. “We’re concerned about safety, we’re concerned about rights, we’re concerned about efficacy.”
Several states, including Virginia, Rhode Island and Hawaii, mandate the HPV vaccine for school attendance. Other states have pending legislation that would make HPV shots required for school students.