New York has been at the forefront of the battles surrounding legislative attempts to make vaccines mandatory. Numerous bills have been hotly debated in the state legislature. Now, the legislature is considering another mandatory vaccine law. There is a bill in Albany that would make HPV vaccinations mandatory for schoolchildren. The bill is controversial and is evoking strong opinions from both sides of the divide. The proposed law brings up interesting questions regarding the government’s role in vaccines and whether parents can have a say in decisions concerning their children.
There are medical studies that have shown that vaccines against sexually transmitted diseases are most effective when administered before girls begin to have sexual activity. In order to be certain that the vaccine is given ahead of time, it is recommended that the vaccine be given when a girl is as young as nine years of age. Here, the particular law would require that schoolchildren receive the vaccine before they can begin seventh grade.
New York Is Expanding the Coverage of its Vaccine Laws
New York laws already require that school-age children receive a dozen vaccines. It is illegal not to be given the vaccine, and the law does not have any provisions for parental consent. Parents cannot decide not to give these children the vaccines. These vaccines are required in order to attend school in New York State. Included in these mandatory vaccines are tetanus, Hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella. These requirements apply whether the child is attending a religious or private school and parents can no longer rely upon a religious exemption to keep their children from receiving the vaccine. However, what is different about the HPV vaccine is that it protects against future harm as opposed to preventing a current outbreak of a disease that can endanger children today.
Pediatricians and advocates are pushing New York lawmakers to add the HPV vaccine to the list. HPV can be the precursor to a number of cancers, and scientists believe the vaccine is most effective when given early. Side effects of the vaccine include a high temperature and pain in the arms and legs. The HPV vaccine is called Gardisil 9, which replaced Gardisil. The previous vaccine had some safety issues, as it was connected to 32 deaths, although the new vaccine is reported to be safer.
There Is Opposition to the Potential Law
As usual, when there are any legislative issues that relate to mandatory vaccinations, battle lines are being drawn in New York. Some parents in the state have started a petition and over 82,000 parents have signed the petition to protest to the proposed law. Parents have objected on the grounds that the law violates their rights as parents to make choices that they believe are best for their children. The issues about compulsory vaccinations do not result from dangers associated with the vaccine but from feelings that parents are being forced to do something whether they want to or not. Many parents believe that the law is an example of legislative overreach that is big government in its most basic form.
New York is not the first state to consider adding the HPV vaccine to the list of required vaccines. Currently, two states and the District of Columbia mandate the HPV vaccine for schoolchildren and Hawaii recently passed a law that will go into effect in 2020. In addition, there are seven other states that are considering some form of a mandate for the HPV vaccine.
Reasons for the Controversy
One of the reasons for the controversy is that the state is considering requiring a vaccine that protects against an STD. There is still a certain stigma that is attached to these types of vaccines. In fact, one survey in the state showed that almost 40 percent of parents were considering not giving their children this vaccine if this were to remain optional. However, Hepatitis B is also spread through sexual contact and it is already on the list of mandatory vaccines. Currently, outside of New York City, only 49 percent of New Yor State schoolchildren have received the HPV vaccine.
However, there is research that shows that the HPV vaccine can help prevent certain forms of cancer. 70 percent of cervical cancer cases are preceded by a case of HPV. In men, HPV can lead to throat and anal cancer. Giving this vaccine early can lower rates of cancer.
There is some momentum for mandatory vaccinations in New York in the wake of the recent measles outbreak. The state recently stripped the religious exemptions and vaccine advocates have gained the upper hand in the debate. However, there is some concern that the move to mandate the HPV vaccine is an overreach by the legislature that is aimed at preventing something that does not cause imminent danger.
What is different about this particular opposition is that it does not consist solely of anti-vaxxers, but it also includes many parents who do not otherwise object to vaccines. This is because issues of parental choice are prevalent in the debate. However, parents are also joined by groups that oppose any type of mandatory vaccination.
Even some school districts are opposing the proposed legislation. For example, the Superintendent of the Clarence Central School District wrote a letter to the Legislature opposing the bill. According to the Superintendent, the bill would have a detrimental effect on families in his school district.
While there are points on both sides of the debate, the one thing that is certain is that this proposed bill is proving to be divisive. As of now, the legislation has not yet gained much traction and there is no clear indication that it stands a chance of passing. However, many state laws take several sessions of the legislature in order to gain the necessary votes to pass. If the bill does not pass in 2020, chances are that it will likely be brought up again in the next session. Still, the votes are not yet there for this bill to become law.
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