State health commissioner supports recommending cervical cancer vaccine

Associated Press • Mar 18, 2007 at 12:24 PM

CHATTANOOGA - The state's top health official says she supports recommending girls be vaccinated against cervical cancer, but does not believe the new vaccine should be mandated.

Tennessee Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Friday that without long-term data on the effectiveness of the vaccine, a law requiring it is premature.

"Do I think every female child should be protected against cervical cancer? If there's a way to do it, yes," she said. "Do I think we know enough about the long-term outcomes of this vaccine to say we ought to mandate it today? Maybe not."

Critics have argued that the vaccine, called Gardasil, is too new and its effects need to be further studied before mandating it. The Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil last year.

Several state legislatures are considering laws that would require girls to receive the new vaccine. In Texas, for example, Gov. Rick Perry issued an order requiring the vaccine, which lawmakers have opposed and are seeking to overturn.

In Tennessee, Republican state legislators Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, introduced a bill last month that would give the General Assembly alone the authority to require the vaccine.

The General Assembly last year established a committee to study cervical cancer, and the committee in January set a goal of eliminating the disease by 2040.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which studies vaccines for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, earlier this week issued a report recommending vaccination of girls age 11 to 12 and for girls and women age 13 to 26.

More than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year, and 3,700 people will die from it, according to the CDC.

In 2005 in Tennessee, 108 women died of cervical cancer, according to the Department of Health.

Tennessee state Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson, a pharmacist, said he asked Cooper during a recent Health and Human Resources Committee meeting about the vaccine.

He said he agrees that the state should not require the vaccine.

"It's really something that's between the parents and the child," he said. "It hasn't been tested on the market for a long period of time."

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