ALBANY — Legislation being considered at the statehouse would require New York school children to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been linked to several types of cancer.
The proposal is igniting protests from parents who argue such a mandate would usurp their parental authority over their children while exposing girls and boys to a vaccine they contend has unacceptable risks.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, say the legislation simply adds the HPV vaccination to the list of required immunizations New York now has for school children, such as those for measles and meningitis.
Last year, New York made it more difficult for families to get around the mandate by passing legislation that ended religious exemptions, prompting protests from some religious groups.
Bills that deal with the HPV vaccine drew hundreds of protesters to the statehouse Jan. 8 for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech.
"My kids are NOT property of the government," read one sign wielded by a demonstrator.
Melissa Bordes of Long Island said she has opted to home-school her 7-year-old daughter because of New York's vaccination mandates.
The spokeswoman for a grassroots group called New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights, Bordes said the HPV legislation is destined to prompt more parents to opt to keep their children out of New York schools while also motivating some families to move out of the state altogether.
The opposition will grow more intense, she predicted, as "the draconian nature of this current legislation increases."
While the current law allows exemptions from the current mandate, Bordes said the exemptions have become increasingly difficult to acquire from school superintendents, short of producing documentation that a child has had anaphylactic reactions to medications.
Paulin, though, said the HPV vaccine, by preventing the virus, greatly reduces the risk of cervical cancer in women, among several other types of cancers that can arise in both women and men.
"It's just like all of the other vaccines regulated by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)," Paulin said.
The fact that the vaccine promotes women's health, in particular, makes the absence of the HPV immunization on the state's list or mandated shots seem "discriminatory," she suggested.
Hoylman, a leader in last year's push for an end to religious exemptions, said he expects challenges in getting the HPV legislation approved in both chambers of the Legislature this session.
"It willl take much more education of the public and my colleagues in the Legislature to get this bill passed, especially in the wake of such misinformation that is being peddled by anti-vaxxers over social media," the senator told CNHI.
The measure, Hoylman said, is grounded in "cutting edge public policy."
The HPV vaccine, according to the CDC, provides close to 100 percent protection against precancers and genital warts.
The New York legislation would require the immunization for all children born since Jan. 1, 2009.
A second bill championed by Paulin would allow youths to get HPV vaccinations without parental consent. Paulin said the state Health Department has already enacted regulation allowing minors to get the vaccine without parental consent and her bill simply codifies that rule.
The CDC calls the HPV vaccine "very safe," stating that its benefits far outweigh potential risks. It recommends HPV vaccines for preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12 to protect against cancers caused by HPV infection.
HPV infections have dropped markedly in teenage girls since the vaccine was recommended in 2006, the CDC says.
Bordes said many people who oppose vaccination mandates for children have been improperly labeled "anti-vaxxers." She said she prefers to be called a "former vaxxer," noting she turned against vaccines after her daughter began having seizures following an immunization shot.
She estimated about 1,000 demonstrators flooded state buildings to protest on the first day of the legislation session, adding that thousands more are protesting by refusing to have their children get vaccines.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI Newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.