SACRAMENTO, Calif. A new state law mandating that all California pre-teen girls in public and private schools be vaccinated against the HPV is one step closer to reality after the Assembly approved the measure June 7.
AB 16 now goes before the Calif. State Senate.
The vaccine, which targets 11 and 12 year olds, is said to protect its users from human papillomaviruses, which have been linked to cervical cancer. The only way HPV can be contracted is through sexual contact.
"It is terribly disappointing that the state assembly decided to force a dangerous, inadequately tested STD vaccine on 11 year-old girls," Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute, said in a news release.
After heated debate over the dangers of the HPV vaccination and relinquishing legislative oversight to an unelected bureaucrat, the bill passed 44-28, with one Democrat, Nicole Parra of Bakersfield, crossing over to vote "no."
The issue of making the HPV vaccine mandatory for school children has become a hot-button issue across the country as opponents maintain such legislation tramples the rights of parents. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry used an executive order to force mandatory vaccines in his state, but the order was overturned by the state legislature.
In California, the bill was introduced late last year and was immediately met with opposition from conservatives concerned that the immunization would send the wrong message to young girls about sexual activity and would pre-empt parental rights. Although the bill had an opt-out provision, the bill's language did not require school officials to notify parents. Parents' rights groups had lobbied for an "opt in" provision.
Responding to public outcry, the bill underwent a series of amendments including a requirement that parents be notified of their opt-out rights. The bill also broadened the scope of the vaccine to include all immunizations based upon federal recommendations, but removed oversight from the legislature to an independent official, the state's public health officer. Finally, vaccines would have to be on the market at least five years before they could be considered for mandatory classification.
"This bill will ensure that our state's immunization policy is not overshadowed by a highly politicized and partisan process, but will instead reflect the best scientific and medical knowledge by tying it to the best standard available," the bill's author Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, Calif., said in a news release. "It will leave the decision as to how and when to implement a vaccine to the public health professionals best qualified to make that determination, while still leaving parents the option to decide whether to immunize their child."
A neutral position
The changes were enough to prompt the California Family Council, a conservative public policy organization specializing in traditional family values, to change its position from opposing the measure to being neutral, saying the bill was "vastly improved, and, although not perfect."
"The bill now includes a first-time mandate by the state to inform parents of their rights regarding vaccinations," read a statement on the organization's Web site. "For that, CFC credits the voice of the state's citizens, and the response of the Assembly Committee on Health.
"When it comes to education, the best bills would always place children under the authority of their parents or guardians. This would best be demonstrated by a parent having the right to opt their child into any school requirements.
"Still, by the amendments to AB 16, many more parents will be given information that will permit them to make the best decision on behalf of their child."
But Concerned Women for America, while applauding several pro-parent amendments offered in the bill, is still lining up against the measure.
"Concerned Women for America is committed to support, protect and advocate the God-given right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children," CWA officials have written about AB 16. "Parents know what is best for their daughters and, if given the information about this disease, will make the best decision for the health of their child. Therefore, we urge lawmakers to resist making any changes that amount to a mandate of vaccines such as that for HPV."
In addition, she wanted to know why children's access to an education would be hinged to whether they receive an STD vaccine?
England argues that the opt-out provision is not enough to placate "parental rights advocates."
"An opt-out provision is simply the government telling me that they have taken away my parental rights and in order to regain them I must file an affidavit with the school," she said. "That is an appalling view of parental rights and displays a complete disregard for the sanctity of the family unit."