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Cancer immunization controversy comes to Georgia
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Since Texas Governor Rick Perry bypassed his state legislature to enforce mandatory human papillomavirus (HPV) immunizations for female students, a number of other states have jumped on the bandwagon, including Georgia.
Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) introduced legislation in February that would require female students in Georgia to undergo vaccinations for the sexually transmitted disease prior to admittance into the sixth grade, starting with the 2008-2009 school year.
According to Balfour, Senate Bill 155 will protect the state’s young women from cervical cancer, which can be caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.
The Food and Drug Administration approved use of the Gardasil vaccine, the first developed to fight these “high-risk” strands of the virus, for females between the ages of nine and 26 in June 2006.
The vaccination is given in three separate injections over a six-month period. All three doses are needed in order for women to receive “the full benefits” of the vaccination, according to information found on the Gardasil website.
For months the vaccine’s maker, Merck & Co., was involved in a behind-the-scenes campaign lobbying states to require the use of Gardasil, but suspended the push after complaints began pouring in from parents, medical groups and religious organizations.
It is unclear if Georgia lawmakers were influenced by the Merck campaign.
Balfour told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution SB 155 was simply an effort to create good public policy.
“If you can help reduce the significance of cervical cancer, that’s a great thing for the state of Georgia,” he said.
After receiving a favorable report from the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and a second read on the Senate floor, a vote on SB 155 could come as early as Mar. 19 when Georgia lawmakers return to the Capitol following a two-week break in the session.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, however, recently told reporters he believes the bill “does not have the support for passage.”

Quick facts about HPV, the virus that can cause cervical cancer in women.
- Approximately 20 million people are currently infected with HPV.
- At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives.
- By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection.
- About 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year.
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