Tuesday, March 13, 2007

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico is on the verge of becoming the latest
state to require sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against a sexually
transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, a spokesman for the
governor said Monday.

The state House approved the bill Sunday, and Gov. Bill Richardson
will sign it once he receives the legislation, spokesman Gilbert
Gallegos said.

"It's a public health issue, and I believe it's an important step,"
Richardson said Monday. "New Mexico has always been progressive on
these issues. ... We've got to find ways for young women to be protected."

The measure would take effect June 15 _ 90 days after the adjournment
of the Legislature.

Texas is the only state to require the vaccine so far, but other
states are considering doing the same. While federal regulators have
approved the vaccine, the issue of making it a requirement for girls
has been surrounded by controversy.

Merck & Co., the vaccine's maker, said last month that it would
suspend a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to get states to require
it for school-age girls because of pressure from parents and medical

Texas Gov. Rick Perry sidestepped his state's Legislature when he
ordered the shots for girls entering the sixth grade there starting in
September 2008. He has since had to defend his relationship with
Merck; The Associated Press reported Perry's chief of staff met with
key aides about the vaccine on the same day Merck's political action
committee donated money to the governor's campaign.

It wasn't known if Merck had lobbied New Mexico officials.

Virginia lawmakers passed a similar law, which Gov. Timothy M. Kaine
has said he would sign. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's budget
proposal calls for providing the vaccine for free to all girls 9 to 18
who want it.

Other states have considered legislation as well. In Colorado,
lawmakers are debating a bill that would make the cervical cancer
vaccine mandatory for girls entering sixth grade unless their parents
sign a form refusing it.

The federal government approved Gardasil, a three-dose vaccine that
protects against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, in June for
females ages 9 to 26. The vaccine protects against HPV strains that
cause cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers and genital warts.

More than 500 cases of mostly minor side effects have been reported in
girls and women who got the vaccine. Government health officials said
last month that no additional warning labels are needed.

Also Monday, two Texas lawmakers said that state health officials are
not required to follow Perry's order.

Their announcement was made after meeting with Texas Attorney General
Greg Abbott, who told them the order "was more like a suggestion to
the head of the agency," according to state Sen. Jane Nelson.

Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said the attorney general's office
does not discuss the content or substance of its discussions with

The governor's office says the order is consistent with current law,
although Perry has acknowledged that the Legislature can supersede it.
The Texas House is to vote Tuesday on a bill that would bar state
officials from requiring the vaccine."


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