The East Meadow School District’s medical director, John Zaso, addressed a crowded room at the Jan. 8 Board of Education meeting, in the interest of alleviating flaring tensions over state legislation that would require all students to receive the human papillomavirus vaccine before entering seventh grade.
The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Brooklyn, in the Assembly, and Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, in the Senate. There have been five similar versions of the bills proposed in the past decade, none of which have passed in either chamber.
HPV can cause six kinds of cancer, and nearly 14 million Americans become infected each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are now almost 80 million Americans infected with some form of the virus, which is spread through sexual activity.
Zaso said that he was a “staunch vaccine supporter,” but the HPV vaccine is in a different class because the virus is not airborne. “It’s a good idea, but they’re missing the mark,” Zaso said of the legislators. “I think everybody should get the vaccine, even children, but it isn’t something we should be keeping them out of school for.”
Zaso, a pediatric/adolescent physician and member of the Nassau County Board of Health, explained that the reasoning behind vaccinating children, even if they are not sexually active, is because they have stronger immune systems and would need only two doses of the shot, as opposed to three, which are prescribed to those older than 14.
The newest form of the vaccine is the Gardisal 9, so named because it induces immunity to the nine most common strains of the virus. There are hundreds of strains, but only 14 are known to cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Zaso warned the meeting attendees not to believe rumors spread about the vaccine — for instance, that it decreases fertility. “It’s not true,” he said. “It’s not science. It’s junk science.”
The vaccine can cause soreness in the area where it is administered, as well as dizziness, nausea, headaches and exhaustion. None of the symptoms are chronic, and usually last a day or two.
A petition on Change.org opposing the bill has collected nearly 104,000 signatures over the past two months, and more than 300 protesters gathered in front of Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s Rockville Centre office on Dec. 5 to protest his support of vaccine mandates. Calling it Black Out Day, the protesters, many of them parents, opposed not only the vaccine mandate, but also another bill in the Legislature that would allow children to be vaccinated for sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent. They also criticized legislation that eliminated religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, which was passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June.
The vaccine mandate has drawn the ire of members of the East Meadow Moms Facebook page, who have posted about their opposition. Leading up to the Dec. 5 protest, Joanne Epstein Wolk shared a post encouraging members to participate. “Whatever side you’re on,” Wolk wrote, “we must all protect the rights of parents in NY and not allow the government to mandate what’s best for our children.”
Despite Zaso’s statements about the HPV vaccine and the bill, East Meadow Superintendent Kenneth Card Jr. said that the district and the Board of Education had no official stance on the issue. “We brought him here to share information from a medical perspective,” Card said of Zaso. “Our job is to inform the community so we could engage in a dialogue.”