BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana is one of the first states to offer adolescent girls a new vaccine against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, but has no plans to require it.
"We certainly don't want to get into a fight like they have in Texas right now," Dr. Erin Brewer, Louisiana's assistant state health officer, said Tuesday.
Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry ordered them for girls entering sixth grade, is the only state to require the injections. Legislatures in other states are considering doing so; all but five of Texas' 31 state senators — including the Democrat who filed a bill last fall proposing a similar requirement — have sent Perry a letter urging him to reverse his order.
Public health officials recommend the shot, recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for girls starting at age 11. Louisiana's free vaccination program for low-income families will offer the shots for girls aged 13 to 18, Brewer said.
"This vaccine provides us with an opportunity to prevent disease and save lives," she said.
The vaccine is recommended for routine use for girls age 11 to 12 — before they typically become sexually active and expose themselves to human papillomavirus — and recommends them for girls and women age 13 to 26.
Gardasil protects recipients from four types of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus — two types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two more that cause most genital warts.
Conservatives and parents rights groups in Texas say the shots could encourage premarital sex while interfering with parents' right to decide what is best for their children.
Education — not mandates — is the best tactic, said Bocchini, who worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control on standards for the vaccine's use.
"This is a new vaccine, and it's more important at this time to educate parents," Bocchini said.
For instance, Bocchini said, many people are not aware that HPV is "such a common infection, and it's almost the exclusive cause of cervical cancer."
Bocchini said once a individual becomes sexually active, the likelihood of exposure to HPV is high within two years.
Merck & Co., which makes the vaccine Gardasil, has been providing information to legislators and policymakers who are considering requiring it for school, spokeswoman Jennifer Allen said.
Pediatricians and some general-practice doctors have started offering the vaccine to their private patients, said Dr. Joseph Bocchini of Shreveport, chairman of the committee on infectious disease of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
While a number of insurance companies include the vaccine in health plans, Bocchini said, their reimbursement has doesn't cover costs of about $120 to $360 for each of the three shots.
Brewer said the state negotiated a discount to $96.75 per dose. It has received 29,040 doses, and another 19,300 are on order, she said.