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Franklin Square residents oppose HPV vaccine bill

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Franklin Square Board of Education members sent a letter to local elected officials on Dec. 5, expressing their opposition to a bill that would require students entering seventh grade to get the human papillomavirus vaccine.

They wrote that “there are many known side effects that have caused physicians to recommend against giving this vaccine,” and noted that HPV differs from other viruses that students need to be vaccinated against because it cannot be spread “through the air or a lack of personal hygiene,” but is instead spread through sexual contact.

“Parents should be provided with information, and be allowed to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to have their children vaccinated against HPV,” the letter read. “As our elected officials, we ask you to vote against this bill, and not add this requirement for students in the state to be vaccinated against HPV in order to attend public schools.”

The bill was introduced by Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Brooklyn, in the State Assembly, and Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, in the Senate. They worked with Dr. Jana Shaw, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, to draft the legislation.

Shaw said her role was to enhance the legislators’ and parents’ understanding of the vaccine, which is so effective at preventing cancers related to HPV that Australia is “on track to eliminate HPV-related cancers due to its HPV and pap smear programs.”

The vaccine contains nine antigens, Shaw explained, and is recommended for children ages 11 and 12 because they have not likely been exposed to the virus.

By mandating that each student be vaccinated, she said, teenagers would be empowered “to make healthy decisions for themselves,” adding, “seventh- and eighth-graders understand what cancer is and are in a position to make decisions about their health themselves.”

“The facts are such that if we continue to give out the HPV vaccines,” Shaw said, “we will see less suffering.”

HPV can cause six different types of cancer, and nearly 14 million Americans become infected each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are now almost 80 million Americans infected with some form of the disease.

But several Franklin Square residents and local officials say the bill requiring students to be vaccinated is unnecessary and infringes upon parents’ right to raise their children the way they would like.

CAT scan technician Paula Gallo, who has 10-year-old triplets, said her children are fully vaccinated because she understands why the chicken pox and measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are necessary for children to attend school. However, she said, “there isn’t enough research” into the HPV vaccine — which came onto United States markets in 2006 — and “as far as this HPV vaccine goes, that’s definitely a ‘no’ for me.”

Tammy Goldener, a mother of two teenagers who have also received every other vaccine, said her children were asked about getting the HPV vaccine when they were 12, but the vaccine was fairly new at the time, and there was limited research into it. She then spoke to her children about it, and left the decision whether to get the vaccination up to them.

Under this bill, however, she said her children would have been mandated to get the vaccine. “It’s an infringement on parental rights,” Goldener said, “and an infringement on the child’s right to their own body.”

Several local officials agreed. Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said she thought parents and their children should have conversations about the benefits and potential drawbacks to the vaccine, and Assemblyman Ed Ra, a Republican from Franklin Square, said, “I think it’s appropriate that this vaccine be left up to parental choice” due to the nature of the disease.

State Sen. Anna Kaplan also wrote a memo on Dec. 5 outlining her opposition to the bill. In it, she said that, while she supported legislation requiring every student to be vaccinated against the measles following a deadly outbreak, she has “been consistent and up front about my lack of support” for the HPV vaccine bill.

But, she noted, the bill does not have much support and has never been brought up as a priority. It is now sitting in committees in both houses of the State Legislature.