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Florida HPV Vaccine Bill Gets Watered Down Before Going to Committee; Anti-Vaccine Group Still Not Pleased

​Rick Perry tried making it mandatory. Michele Bachmann insinuated that it causes mental retardation. One of the world's top bioethicists bet Bachmann $10,000 to prove this claim.

The human papillomavirus vaccine -- which helps protect women from certain strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer -- tends to be a powder keg of political controversy. Look out, Florida.

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On Wednesday, the Health Regulation Committee is slated to review SB 1116, a proposal from State Sen. Thad Altman related to the HPV vaccine. The original draft of the bill suggested that the HPV vaccine be added to the list of recommended vaccines for school-aged children in Florida. 

That upset the anti-vaccine crowd.

On Tuesday, Claire Friedman, codirector of KNOW Vaccines -- the Florida branch of the National Vaccine Information Center -- sent a criticism of the proposal to state Sen. Rene Garcia, chair of the Health Regulation Committee. The group argues that the vaccine is dangerous and that "a state recommendation implies an endorsement by the state."

"We do have concerns because we know that the process of informed consent is minimal at best in pediatricians' offices," Friedman told New Times. "Our main objection to this is that when a state recommends a vaccine, it implies it's endorsing it, that it's approving it. We don't feel the state should be endorsing this controversial vaccine."
On Tuesday afternoon, the language of the bill was changed. The proposal no longer supports adding the vaccine to the list of recommended vaccines. Instead, the new, much weaker language of the proposal suggests that the "parent or guardian of each student entering grade 6 shall be provided information on the availability of vaccination against human papillomavirus as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices."

Providing information on the vaccine to parents seems like a step toward addressing Friedman's concerns over informed consent. Apparently not. 

In an email this morning, Friedman writes:

We are in opposition to the amendment to Senate Bill 1116 which proposes to give information to parents about the human papillomavirus and the available vaccine.  This information will imply an endorsement by the state of this controversial vaccine which has significant side effects which include death.  This conversation about a sexually transmitted virus should take place between the parent and their healthcare provider. Also, what is the cost of providing this information? In an time of budget cutting, the state should focus on its primary purpose and not interfere with what should take place in a healthcare providers office.

The HPV vaccine is recommended by the CDC and has proven to be safe and effective in dozens of studies. It protects against specific strains of the virus, which in turn provides protection against cervical cancer because, as noted by the CDC, "almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV."

"It's a common-sense bill," says Ed Homan, a former Republican state rep from Tampa who introduced similar legislation a few years back. "If this was a vaccine for lung cancer or breast cancer, everyone would be clamoring for it. But when it's cervical cancer, it's like 'Oh my God, our littler girls are going to become promiscuous.' I don't get it. You give this to 9-year-old girls."

Homan says his proposal made it through several committees, but the Republican leadership had no interest in moving it forward. 

"Who is getting the vaccine now are people that are educated and have some money," Homan says. "It's the less privileged that end up not getting the vaccine and getting cancer, and it becomes the state's responsibility to pay for their care. It's a huge financial burden on the state to care for people with a preventable disease."

Sen. Altman's office did not return calls seeking comment on the bill.

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