Despite vociferous opposition, the California legislature this week passed a bill that would remove parental consent for vaccinating children 12 and older against sexually transmitted diseases. State law already allows children 12 and older to consent to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without parental involvement, but the bill expands that right to immunizations, such as HPV vaccines (read the bill here).
The legislation, which has been dubbed the Gardasil bill after the Merck HPV vaccine, generated criticism over Gardasil side effects as well as concerns among some parents and social conservatives that passage would amount to a green light to premarital sex. The California Catholic Conference, for instance, sent notices warning parents that minors do not have adequate judgment about vaccination (see this).
Such views run contrary to public health officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that Gardasil is needed as public health tool not long after the FDA approved the vaccine in 2006 to protect against the 6, 11, 16 and 18 strains of the human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. The FDA approved the vaccine for girls and women ages 9 to 26, but has resisted raising the age bracked. Since then, GlaxoSmithKline won approval to market Cervarix.
Meanwhile, a look at campaign donations by CalWatchdog found that many members of the California senate and assembly who voted to approve the legislation also received money last year from Merck. This group includes representative Toni Adkins, who introduced the bill and earlier this summer denied that she ever received money from the drugmaker.
Adkins, for instance, received $1,000, according to the Merck corporate and political action committee report for 2010 (read here). She was among 15 members of the assembly who voted in favor of the bill and also received Merck money (see here). Similarly, 10 state senators who voted in favor of the bill this week also received money from the drugmaker (look here).
As CalWatchdog notes, Merck also contributed to some lawmakers who voted against the legislation, but most donations to legislators went to those who supported the bill, which now goes to Governor Jerry Brown. Whether he will turn this into law is unclear, especially since taxpayers will have to cover the cost. But he can expect to hear many of the same complaints about HPV vaccines that have plagued Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Perry, you may recall, four years ago bypassed the Texas legislature and signed an order making Texas the first state to require school-age girls to be vaccinated with the Gardasil HPV vaccine, infuriating conservatives and some parents. By then, his former chief of staff was a Merck lobbyist. Now that Perry is running for president, he has gone on the record to say the controversial move was a mistake (look here).
"I admit to having a difficult time thinking about all the California children who will, in the near future, begin to suffer from the badly mistaken 'good' intentions of the legislators who think they know - better than parents - what is good for a child. I know that I, for one, will never be able to accept any Merck drug product or over-the-counter product which can be determined by going to their website," Camille Giglio writes on the American Life League web site. "This fight isn't over."