PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island will become the third state in the nation to mandate the HPV vaccine for all seventh-graders in public and private schools this fall, a decision the Department of Health hopes will help prevent cancer.
“It’s important because this is a great vaccine in the sense that it prevents cancer. It’s really one of the first vaccines that we have that prevents cancer,” said Dr. Jim McDonald, a physician at the Department of Health.
State health officials say the three-part vaccine, which protects against the sexually transmitted disease Human Papillomavirus, should be administered before children are sexually active, because the body’s immune response is the strongest to this vaccine during the preteen years. The virus is linked to certain genital cancers, including cervical cancer.
McDonald said the vaccine has been FDA-approved since 2006, and that it is already used a lot throughout the Ocean State. In 2013, 75-percent of all female Rhode Island teenagers had received at least one of the three doses, he said.
Parents, however, have mixed reactions when it comes to the new mandate.
“As far as saying they must get it, I don’t agree with that. I think it should be our choice,” said parent Rudy Basquez. “I just feel like it should be my decision to make it. They’re in a public school, so the public should have the choice to make on their own.”
Kerry Pinkerton, also a parent, supports the decision. “I think it’s perfectly useful, and I agree with them mandating it,” she said. “It prevents an illness just like mumps or chicken pox vaccinations, and why should children be at high risk for an illness?”
McDonald says research has supported the decision, and that Rhode Island is ahead of the curve on the decision, joining Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the mandate.
“It’s ongoing being evaluated and what we’ve seen after many, many doses have been given is that it’s a very safe, very effective vaccine and it works very well,” he said. “I do think other states are heading in that direction. Someone has to be in the top three, why not Rhode Island?”
Parents can learn more about the vaccine at a series of hearings that the Department of Health will hold across the state in August, starting on August 5 in Barrington.