A bill headed to Gov. Nikki Haley later this week would provide HPV vaccines to students entering seventh grade in South Carolina, possibly ending a decade-long effort to increase awareness of a vaccine believed critical for cervical cancer prevention.
The 107-1 vote in the House last week came after state senators added a late amendment stating no abortion providers would be able to receive government money for the program. Haley is expected to sign the bill into law, according to lead sponsor State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually-transmitted disease that has been linked to cervical cancer cases in women, but can also cause health problems for men. There has been effort among a bipartisan group of legislators since 2007 to make the vaccine and educational materials widely available to the middle-school students and their parents. However, previous efforts in 2007, 2012, and 2013 failed to become law.
“This is a vaccine that can prevent certain types of cancer and the importance of that can’t be understated,” Bernstein told South Carolina Radio Network. “I’m very happy because this is a bill I can be proud of that’s going to start to save South Carolina lives.”
Bernstein said South Carolina has one of the country’s lowest HPV vaccination rates and one of the highest mortality rates for cervical cancer.
The bill would allow the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to offer the vaccines at its clinics for uninsured teens. The vaccines would be optional, but parents would be given brochures and other materials to explain why the shot is recommended. DHEC has previously estimated it would cost them $520,000 to implement the program.
The measure passed the House last year, but had blocked by two conservative senators (Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and Mike Fair, R-Greenville) over concerns that funding for the educational materials could benefit groups like Planned Parenthood that offer the vaccine but also provide abortions. Others who voted against the bill had concerns about potential side effects from one vaccine Gardasil.
Gov. Haley has flipped on the bill, supporting a 2007 effort that failed because it made the vaccines mandatory instead of optional. But she surprised supporters when she vetoed an optional bill as governor five years later, saying it created an “unfunded mandate” for DHEC. But Bernstein said she has worked with the Governor’s Office this year and has assurances Haley will sign the bill this time.
The act needs to be ratified on Tuesday (which is almost always a technical formality) before heading to the governor.