New vaccine draws fire from right wing

Medicine could prevent cervical cancer

Georgia is anxiously waiting to see if the federal government will encourage states to mandate a newly minted, controversial vaccine that prevents most cases of cervical cancer. Already, it's caused a wildfire among conservative Christians who fear such a vaccine threatens their abstinence-only crusade.

Two weeks ago, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously approved a vaccine that prevents types of a sexually transmitted disease. The unanimous vote came as somewhat of a surprise because one of the committee members, a former medical adviser for a conservative group, had previously expressed concern that the vaccine would undermine the abstinence-only message, giving teens the license to sleep around. Dr. Reginald Finger says he reasoned that the vaccine was pitched in the right way — as a preventative measure.

"Almost everyone eventually becomes sexually active," Finger says. "We had every reason to take a broader view and make prevention a priority."

Scientists say the vaccine will make a major impact with cervical cancer, one of the biggest health threats to women today. It protects against four strains of human papillomavirus, including two types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 4,000 deaths each year.

"This is a cancer prevention vaccine," said Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "It also turns out to prevent the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country."

The CDC estimates that around 6 million Americans contract one of more than 100 strains of HPV each year.

The advisory committee recommended the vaccine for girls as young as 9. Some conservative groups believe the vaccine will increase promiscuity and encourage young women to not abstain from sex or have multiple partners. They also fear that the CDC will encourage states to mandate the vaccine for school enrollment.

"We support this vaccine but oppose mandatory vaccination," says Linda Klepacki, a health analyst for Focus on the Family. "Parents have the right to make the decision for minors, not the states."

Demetrius Parker, a media relations manager for Georgia's Division of Public Health, says the division is waiting for the final review from the CDC director and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to solidify their recommendations on the vaccine. "We will take [the CDC's] lead and implement their recommendations," Parker says.

So far, the CDC has remained quiet on the issue of school entry laws.

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