Is D.C.’s HPV Vaccine Mandate a Mistake?
Last April, as Emily Tarsell began her trek back to Northern Maryland following her testimony before the D.C. Council, she said, “I came down to try to support the families in Washington to be more aware of the [possible] adverse side effects of [the Human Papillomavirus vacine] Gardasil and to advocate for removing the mandatory requirement for vaccination.”
Legislation passed by the D.C. Council in 2007 mandates that girls receive the HPV vaccine prior to entering sixth grade. The District of Columbia and Virginia are the only two states to mandate the HPV vaccine, which some believe may prevent cervical cancer. Friday, Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 61-33 to drop the state’s mandate. The Washington Post noted, “[T]he House’s strong rejection of the mandated vaccine, just four years after it was approved overwhelmingly in the same chamber, is a sign of public uneasiness with HPV vaccination.” The bill now faces an uphill battle in the Virginia State Senate.
Uneasiness with the HPV vaccine may not be limited to Virginia. The Washington Post reported, “Since vaccine mandates were enacted in the District and Virginia, the rates of parents choosing to opt-out has been extremely high in both areas. In Virginia, just 17.3 percent of all eligible girls had received the first of three vaccinations, as envisioned by the law, at the start of the school year. Only 23 percent of this year’s eligible sixth-graders in the District have received the vaccine.” Monday, WAMU 88.5 FM reported, “Only 8 percent of sixth- and seventh-grade girls in D.C. Public Schools have completed the series of Human Papillomavirus vaccine shots. That’s despite a law requiring students to get the vaccine unless parents sign a refusal form.”
The District’s HPV vaccine mandate was championed by At-large Councilmember David Catania, who chairs the Health Committee. Testifying before Mr. Catania, Emily Tarsell described how her only daughter became increasingly ill after her second and third shots of the HPV vaccine. Eighteen days after her third and final injection of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical giant Merck, Christina Tarsell died in her sleep.