LANSING, Mich. - Michigan girls entering the sixth grade next year would have to be vaccinated against cervical cancer under legislation backed Tuesday by a bipartisan group of female lawmakers.
The legislation is the first of its kind in the United States, said Republican state Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, lead sponsor.
The vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June for use in girls and women and has been hailed as a breakthrough in cancer prevention. It prevents infections from some strains of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
A government advisory panel said that ideally, the vaccine should be given before girls become sexually active.
The American Cancer Society estimates that cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 9,700 women nationwide, and that 3,700 will die.
"We believe we can save the lives of these girls," Hammerstrom said.
Some critics around the country have expressed concern that schools would make the vaccine a requirement for enrollment. They have argued that requiring the vaccine would infringe on parents' rights and send a message that underage sex is OK.
As with other vaccines required for schoolchildren, the bills have a provision allowing parents to opt out of the HPV vaccine requirement for medical, moral or philosophical reasons. But some critics are still concerned.
"We don't feel using school attendance as a form of coercion to get parents to vaccinate their child is appropriate, simply because this disease is not transmitted through casual contact the way other diseases are that are subject to school mandates," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
"Parents should be able to opt in rather than opting out," he added.
The three-shot vaccination costs $360. Hammerstrom said that most Michigan employers will cover the vaccine, and that uninsured girls could be covered through the federal government's Vaccines for Children program.
Health officials estimate that 20 million people are infected with HPV, with 6.2 million new infections occurring every year. About 80 percent of sexually active women will be infected by age 50, but for 90 percent of those infected, the virus is naturally cleared from the body and becomes undetectable.
The vaccine can prevent disease from two types of HPV that are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
The announcement of legislation in Michigan came the same day that Women in Government, a national group representing female lawmakers, recommended that all girls entering middle school be vaccinated against HPV.
"Every state needs to look at this," said Susan Crosby, president of the Washington-based nonprofit organization. "It's one of the first cancers we can look at truly eradicating."
Hammerstrom hopes the bills pass the Senate before lawmakers break later this month. Legislators then likely will not return to session until after the November election.