A bill that could come up in the South Carolina General Assembly next year would give seventh-grade girls the option of getting vaccinated against human papilloma virus, or HPV.
HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease and does not by itself cause health problems for most people. However, it severely increases the risk of cervical cancer in women.
“In South Carolina we have very, very high instances of cervical cancer,” said State Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Orangeburg), who is sponsoring the bill, “All I want to do is ensure that young ladies have the opportunity to get the vaccine.”
A similar bill came up in the Legislature in 2007. However, that bill eventually failed because it would have required students to get the vaccine, rather than simply offering it as an option.
Several conservative groups, most notably the Palmetto Family Council, opposed that legislation, calling it a violation of parental rights. In the end, even the bill’s sponsors (including then-Rep. Nikki Haley) voted against it.
Sellers says his bill would only offer the vaccines as an option that parents could decline, if they wished.
The issue of mandatory HPV vaccines came up in September, after Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry came under fire for a 2007 executive order he issued as governor of Texas that required schoolgirls to get the vaccine. His order did allow parents to opt out, however.
Sellers says requiring schools to offer the vaccine will help uninsured families. An HPV vaccine at a clinic can cost nearly $400.
He believes the bill has a good chance of passing this year, as most of the state’s Republican leadership support the vaccines so long as they are not mandatory.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said a three-dose vaccine could be handled by public health agencies at a cost of $288 each. Sellers’s bill would only mandate the HPV vaccines for schools if the funds existed to pay for them.