South Carolina Senate Committee Approves HPV Vaccine Bill, Amid Opposition

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South Carolina Senate Committee Approves HPV Vaccine Bill, Amid Opposition

Martha Kempner

The South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Committee passed a bill on Thursday that would allow—but not require—the state to create brochures about the HPV vaccine and provide vaccines to underinsured seventh graders. The bill, however, faces opposition, including from the governor.

On Thursday, the Medical Affairs Committee of the South Carolina Senate passed a bill aimed at encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV). The bill would allow, but not require, the state to publish brochures about the vaccine. It would also allow—but, again, not require—the state to offer free HPV vaccines to young people entering seventh grade who are not covered by private insurance or the federally funded Vaccines for Children program. The bill, however, faces opposition from many lawmakers in the state, including the governor.

If the bill is signed into law, an estimated 2,400 students would be eligible for the vaccine, but provision of the vaccines would depend on the availability of federal and state funding. Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown), chair of the Medical Affairs Committee, told the Associated Press that he supported the bill because it is in everyone’s best interest to educate parents, so they can make an informed decision. He went on to express frustrations with critics who are trying to argue that the bill would make the vaccine mandatory. “What part of optional do they not read in the bill? I don’t understand,” he said. “The bill says it is not mandated. It is an informational thing that DHEC [the Department of Health and Environmental Control] will provide to let people know about it.”

One opponent who seems to be arguing that the bill mandates the vaccine is Gov. Nikki Haley. Her spokesperson, Doug Mayer, said, “As a mother of a teenage daughter, Governor Haley, like the majority of South Carolinians, believes that health decisions like this are best left up to parents and doctors—not state government.”

In 2012, the governor vetoed a bill that also would have offered HPV vaccines. As a state representative, however, Haley sponsored a bill that would have implemented an opt-out vaccine program for seventh-grade girls.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year. Two strains of the virus, 16 and 18, are responsible for 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. Approximately 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 die. HPV can also cause cancer of the penis and anus, and is responsible for a recent increase in cases of head and neck cancers.

HPV is easily spread from infected skin to uninfected skin. Transmission of HPV can be prevented by condoms, but only if the infected skin is in an area covered by the condom. If it is on an area such as a man’s scrotum, condoms cannot help reduce transmission.

Transmission can also be prevented by the two available vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix. Research shows the vaccines are working. A 2013 study that looked at the impact of Gardasil found that despite the fact that only half of teen girls had gotten one dose of the vaccine and fewer than a third had gotten the recommended three doses, the proportion of teen girls infected with the strains of HPV that the vaccine addresses has dropped by 56 percent.

The bill faces opposition in the full senate, including from those members of the Medical Affairs Committee who have already voted against the bill once. Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg) said he was worried the bill would eventually need funding. He also told the AP, “Our students shouldn’t be forced to do anything like that. It’s not an airborne disease and abstinence works every time.”