N.M. lawmakers approve cancer vaccine
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --New Mexico is on the verge of becoming the latest state to require sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, a spokesman for the governor said Monday.
The state House approved the bill Sunday, and Gov. Bill Richardson will sign it once he receives the legislation, spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
"It's a public health issue, and I believe it's an important step," Richardson said Monday. "New Mexico has always been progressive on these issues. ... We've got to find ways for young women to be protected."
The measure would take effect June 15 -- 90 days after the adjournment of the Legislature.
Texas is the only state to require the vaccine so far, but other states are considering doing the same. While federal regulators have approved the vaccine, the issue of making it a requirement for girls has been surrounded by controversy.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry sidestepped his state's Legislature when he ordered the shots for girls entering the sixth grade there starting in September 2008. He has since had to defend his relationship with Merck; The Associated Press reported Perry's chief of staff met with key aides about the vaccine on the same day Merck's political action committee donated money to the governor's campaign.
It wasn't known if Merck had lobbied New Mexico officials.
Virginia lawmakers passed a similar law, which Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has said he would sign. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's budget proposal calls for providing the vaccine for free to all girls 9 to 18 who want it.
Other states have considered legislation as well. In Colorado, lawmakers are debating a bill that would make the cervical cancer vaccine mandatory for girls entering sixth grade unless their parents sign a form refusing it.
The federal government approved Gardasil, a three-dose vaccine that protects against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, in June for females ages 9 to 26. The vaccine protects against HPV strains that cause cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers and genital warts.
More than 500 cases of mostly minor side effects have been reported in girls and women who got the vaccine. Government health officials said last month that no additional warning labels are needed.
Also Monday, two Texas lawmakers said that state health officials are not required to follow Perry's order.
Their announcement was made after meeting with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who told them the order "was more like a suggestion to the head of the agency," according to state Sen. Jane Nelson.
Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said the attorney general's office does not discuss the content or substance of its discussions with lawmakers.
The governor's office says the order is consistent with current law, although Perry has acknowledged that the Legislature can supersede it. The Texas House is to vote Tuesday on a bill that would bar state officials from requiring the vaccine.