Anti-Cancer Vaccine To Be Given Free in Washington State - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/07/07 - Washington

Anti-Cancer Vaccine To Be Given Free in Washington State

A vaccine against the virus cited as the cause of most cervical cancer could be offered free to girls in Washington state, but there are no plans to make vaccination mandatory as in Texas, authorities said.

About 143,000 doses of Gardasil, made by Merck & Co. for protection against human papillomavirus, could be purchased by late spring if the money set aside for it in the governor's budget proposal is approved by the Legislature, state Health Secretary Mary C. Selecky said Monday.

An estimated 20 million Americans are infected with the HPV, making it the nation's most common sexually transmitted disease. Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to certain strains of the virus.

HPV vaccination of preteen girls to provide immunity before they become sexually active is recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the federal Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Once you're infected with it, the vaccine's not going to help," said Tim Church, a Health Department spokesman.

On Friday, Texas Governor Rick Perry directed that HPV vaccination be mandatory for girls entering the sixth grade as of September 2008, although parents would be allowed to opt out for religious or philosophical reasons by filing an affidavit.

Addressing the Washington State Medical Association's annual legislative assembly and again in a news conference Monday, Gov. Chris Gregoire said such action seemed premature.

"I told the medical association that I was reticent to dictate when I think there is a lot of public education that needs to go on," Gregoire said. "To go out and start just saying everybody mandatorily has to have this is a little bit troublesome for me."

Selecky said initial reception to the offer of state-funded HPV inoculation was enthusiastic.

"We're getting calls all over saying, 'When is this going to start?"' she said.

Washington state health officials typically order large quantities of the most common childhood vaccines for free distribution to doctors, hospitals and clinics, and the state and federal government cover children's vaccines for whooping cough, measles, mumps, hepatitis A and other illnesses without regard to income.

The only cost is what a doctor may charge giving the shot.

"What's in the needle is free," Church said.

HPV vaccine costs about $360 for a typical course of three shots, Selecky said. By buying in bulk, the state cuts that to about $270. Through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30 and through the next two-year budget cycle, state officials hope to spend $26 million on vaccines for HPV and rotavirus, an unrelated childhood gastrointestinal ailment.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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