State Senate passes HPV awareness bill

Thursday, March 6, 2008 | 5:03 p.m. CST; updated 8:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Public schools will be required to send parents of sixth-grade girls information about human papilloma virus and its vaccine under a state Senate bill passed Thursday.

The bill, which still needs House approval, outlines a program to provide parents with information about the virus and its connection to cervical cancer. The program’s goal is to reduce the risk of cervical cancer in the state.

“What I wanted to do was get that information to as many parents as possible,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County. “We decided to work with the schools to get that information out.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country and of the 6.2 million people infected with HPV each year, more than 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The vaccine protects against the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers.

Justus said the bill targets sixth-graders because they are the age first eligible to receive the vaccine, which is intended for women between 12 and 26.

The program also requires school districts to submit reports of the number of students who received the shots and those who didn’t to the state legislature. The statistics would be compiled from information volunteered by parents.

Justus said opposition to the bill started with the cost of the proposed program.

“With any program, there’s a cost associated with it,” she said. “I have no idea exactly how much it will cost, but I think it’s cheaper to vaccinate now than pay for cervical cancer later.”

To send the information packets to the middle-school parents, Justus said the state would receive funding through grants. To vaccinate those girls who choose to, the bill requires the state to pick up the $360 charge for anyone who cannot afford it. Justus said she also recommends families use the 160 clinics across the state who offer the vaccine free of charge.

She also said some members of the right wing were concerned the bill promoted promiscuity.

“I’ve worked very hard with social conservatives to ease those concerns,” Justus said.

The bill received the endorsement of the Missouri Catholic Conference, which had qualms over the social implications at first.

“They realize the benefit to women’s health far outweighs any social concerns,” Justus said.

Sara Torres, science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said Columbia students learn a general overview of infectious and non-infectious diseases in the sixth grade, but there is no focus on sexually transmitted diseases. Students are taught the symptoms, causes, treatments, preventions and prognosis of the assigned diseases.

“We just provide them with the facts,” Torres said. “They know there’s preventions they can take.”

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