Cervical Cancer Bill Clears Hurdle

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Unless their parents sign a form in opposition, middle school girls in Kentucky would be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer under a bill approved by the House on Thursday.

State Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, a physician, urged lawmakers to approve the measure, calling development of the vaccine "a miracle" that will save lives.

The measure, which gives parents the option to exclude their children from the immunization, passed 59-39 after an emotional debate.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, also a physician, had called on lawmakers to provide the vaccine to children on a voluntary basis. In his State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month, Fletcher recommended a $4.1 million appropriation to cover the cost of voluntary vaccines.

The issue became controversial because the human papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer is spread by sexual contact, said state Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington. She said people need to realize that women can contract the disease if they're raped or if their husbands are carriers.

"Just because it can be spread by sexual contact does not mean that it is inappropriate to give to young girls," Stein said of the vaccination.

The governor, however, did not support the proposal that cleared the House.

"Without funding for uninsured and low income women, this is no option," Fletcher said in a statement.

The three-shot vaccination protects girls and women against strains of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. A government advisory panel recommended that all girls get the shots at 11 or 12, before they are likely to be sexually active.

Kentucky has the 12th highest cervical cancer incidence rate nationally and the second-highest cervical cancer death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill would allow parents or guardians to withhold the vaccinations for any reason without the need for a written, sworn statement. Forms allowing parents to opt out of the vaccinations would be available at schools.

State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, one of the dissenters, said children shouldn't be forced to take the vaccine.

"I think it's pretty clear that the intent is to make it a mandatory vaccination," Floyd said. "This may be a good drug, but it should be left up to the parents. It should be truly, truly, truly optional."
The legislation is House Bill 345.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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