Should HPV Vaccine Be Mandatory?

atkisson, hpv
atkisson, hpv

It may seem premature for Kelley Ellsworth to even think about anything that has to do with sex, when it comes to her kids. Her daughter Kira is only in fifth grade.

But she and her friends may be among the first students required by law to get vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease, one that can cause cervical cancer. CBS News correspondent Sharyl Atkisson reports.

"It makes sense to get this done. I guess it's only a question of what the timing is," says Ellsworth.

The vaccine is Gardasil. You may have seen ads for it on television ("You could be one less). It can prevent human papilloma virus, known as HPV, and it's approved for girls as young as 9.

About 6 million Americans get HPV every year, and more than 10,000 end up with cervical cancer.

"If you are sexually active, in a pretty short period of time your chances of getting exposed to this virus are pretty high. So the goal was to recommended its use in younger teens or preteens," says Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Washington, D.C., where Kira lives, may soon add the HPV vaccine to the list of necessary school shots - starting with girls entering 6th grade. Until now, vaccines were only mandated for diseases spread through things like coughs and runny noses. This would be the first required for a disease only spread through sexual contact.

"That's your daughter, that should be a decision that the parents should make," said Lisa Dickson, a mother.

"It's a little tricky that this a cancer connected to sexuality, it makes it more complicated," said Ellsworth.

Parents would be able to "opt out" of the shots. Some worry it's too early to be addressing sexually transmitted diseases with their daughters. Others say the vaccine could be seen as a license to have sex.

But D.C. councilman David Catania dismisses all that. He's sponsoring the vaccine bill.

"The legislation doesn't require that the conversation about the vaccine, center on why you are receiving the vaccine. As I've said before, this vaccine no more encourages sexual activity than a tetanus shot encourages you to step on a rusty nail," says Catania.

It's an especially important issue in Washington, D.C., which has the highest cervical cancer rate in the United States.

At least 11 states are considering similar laws including California, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, Washinton, D.C., and Maryland.

But there are caveats. Merck, the makers of Gardasil, says it's 98 percent effective, but only against certain kinds of HPV, and women studied were only followed for five years.

Because the new vaccine is so new, moms like Carla Hillery are wary.

"I would like to wait awhile and see if there are any side effects, you know, it was a new vaccine," she said.

For her part, Kelley Ellsworth has decided on balance, it's best that her daughter go ahead and get the shot.

"They get sex education in the 5th grade anyway, so it's not like they've never heard of sex," she said.

The series of shots cost $360, and are covered by most health plans.