Rhode Island Mandates That Seventh Graders Get HPV Vaccine, But School Committee Fights Back

The Coventry School Committee introduced a resolution to ask Rhode Island’s Governor, Gina Raimondo and the RI Department of Health, to rescind the state’s mandate requiring all seventh graders to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) with the Gardasil or Cervarix vaccines. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease.

Committee Member James Pierson, who introduced the resolution requesting that the HPV vaccine mandate be rescinded in Rhode Island, explained the reasons to ABC6 News.

“It’s not measles, mumps or rubella – it can’t be contracted in schools.”

Pierson says that it should not be treated the same way as other immunizations are treated.

According to ABC6 News, this sexually transmitted virus “usually goes away on its own, but at its worst, is linked to cervical and other cancers” later in life.

Students in Rhode Island can get a temporary exemption in order to attend school provided that they have an appointment to be vaccinated against HPV scheduled. In Rhode Island, the only exemptions permitted are for medical or religious reasons. Philosophical exemptions are not permitted.

Gina Raimondo’s Press Secretary, Marie Aberger, wrote in a statement to the press that the HPV vaccine is safe and that the governor of Rhode Island supports the HPV vaccine mandate for students in the state.

“These regulations were finalized over a year ago after a public hearing. The Governor recognizes there are concerns about mandatory vaccinations, but the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine as a safe and effective way to help prevent cancer in males and females and save lives. As a mom, she supports steps to help our children and families be as healthy as possible.”

According to Reuters, Rhode Island follows Virginia and the District of Columbia in mandating HPV vaccination for students. Only Rhode Island requires the vaccine for both males and females, according to Rhode Island Public Radio.

“They’re trying to take away my choice as a parent,” Shawna Lawton, an organizer of Rhode Islanders Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations, stated. “How can they require this? It’s not a disease that’s communicable in classrooms.”

Unlike with measles, if a student tests positive for HPV, they would never be removed from the school, leading some parents to cry foul. Rhode Island lawmakers adopted a law that states that all vaccines recommended by the CDC would also be required for schools. So, though Rhode Island legislators never debated the HPV vaccine itself, it was automatically required, Reuters reported.

What do you think? Should students who refuse the HPV vaccine be allowed in school?

[Photo by Jan Christian]