California Minors No Longer Need Parental Okay for HPV Shot

October 11, 2011

October 11, 2011 — California Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday signed a law widely backed by healthcare professionals to let minors as young as 12 years of age receive a vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV) without their parents' consent.

By supporting the legislation, the California Medical Association, the state chapters of the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the California Nurses Association found themselves pulled into the nationwide debate about the vaccine.

The California Catholic Conference, the California Right to Life Committee, and other socially conservative groups in the state had opposed the law, contending that it erodes parental rights and mistakenly assumes 12-year-olds can make medical decisions on their own.

Philip Diamond, MD, vice chair of ACOG's California chapter, told Medscape Medical News that the vast majority of teens will talk to their parents before receiving the vaccine, which is what his group recommends.

"But some teens don't feel they can talk to their parents about sexual activity," said Dr. Diamond, whose ACOG chapter was a co-sponsor of the legislation. "In that situation, we err on the side of providing a vaccine that can prevent HPV."

Dr. Diamond also noted that the new law does not break new healthcare-policy ground. California already permits minors to be tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases such as HPV infection without parental consent. In addition, they do not need their parents' approval when it comes to obtaining contraceptives, pregnancy testing, prenatal care, and abortions.

A group called the National Center for Youth Law has identified 10 other states — in addition to the District of Columbia — with laws that permit minors to get vaccinated for HPV without their parents’ consent. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and South Carolina.

ACOG Leader Decries "Misinformation"

For years, the HPV vaccine has come under criticism from some social conservatives as encouraging teenagers to engage in premarital sex. In a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates, US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) added fuel to the controversy by calling the HPV vaccine a "a government injection" and questioning its safety. Bachmann made these comments in the course of criticizing Texas Governor Rick Perry, another GOP presidential contender, for issuing an executive order — later overturned by his state legislature — mandating HPV vaccination for appropriately aged schoolgirls.

After the debate, she said in an interview that she had met a mother whose daughter developed "mental retardation" after getting the shot.

Bachmann's statements fly in the face of reassurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the 2 HPV vaccines on the market — Gardasil (Merck) and Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline) — "are very safe." The AAP went public with a rebuke that "there is absolutely no scientific validity" to her statement that the vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. Two bioethicists announced that they would pay $11,000 if the congresswoman would supply the medical records proving her mental-retardation claim.

Dr. Diamond called statements like Bachmann's about the safety of HPV vaccines a "scare tactic."

"It's very unfortunate that misinformation given out during a presidential debate affects the discussion of the [California] law," he said. "There are 20 million people infected with HPV. There are 6 million new infections each year. The vaccines are the only treatment out there to prevent infection."

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