Calif. bishops: Parents should determine vaccinations

SAN FRANCISCO -- California's Catholic bishops have urged Catholics in their state to contact lawmakers and ask them to vote against a bill removing parental rights to a teen vaccination against sexually transmitted diseases.

The bill, which already passed in the state Assembly and is currently before the state Senate, would remove the parental consent requirement for vaccinating children 12 and older and would allow children to be given Gardasil vaccine intended to prevent human papillomavirus, or HPV -- a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

The vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, 91 deaths and more than 21,000 adverse reactions have been attributed to Gardasil, said a legislative alert distributed by the California Catholic Conference that cited figures released in January by the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Minors do not have adequate judgment to make a decision about this vaccine, the alert said.

Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, reported that California law already allows children 12 and older to consent, without parental involvement, to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. The bill would expand that right to immunizations against these diseases.

"Most parents are involved in the lives of their minor children and need to know if they are seeking medical care -- regardless of whether the care is curative or preventative," said the Catholic conference alert. The conference is the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops.

"This bill appears to be an 'end run' following the failure in 2007 to mandate HPV vaccination for all girls entering public junior high school -- a measure strongly opposed by parents rights groups and vetoed by the governor," the conference said.

The CDC recommends that all girls 11 or 12 years old get three doses of Gardasil or a similar vaccination, Cervarix. Both protect against the two main strains of human papillomavirus. The vaccinations are said to work best if administered before sexual activity begins.

One in four California teens who is sexually active contracts a sexually transmitted disease each year, according to the California Department of Public Health.

And according to the CDC, human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. There are about 11,000 new cervical cancer cases each year in the United States and cervical cancer causes about 4,000 women's deaths each year in the United States.

William May, chairman of the California-based group, Catholics for the Common Good, a lay apostolate, joined representatives of the Catholic conference in testifying against the bill June 15 at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. He said that by removing parental rights, the bill gives inordinate power to doctors and other health care officials. If there are allergic reactions, parents may not know why and may not be able to react in a timely manner, he added.

"Children can be easily intimidated or influenced by the authority of adults," May said. "There is money to be made by administering these vaccines and other drugs by the drug companies and service providers, like Planned Parenthood. What protects children from coercion driven by the profit motive?"

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here