By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Plans to begin vaccinations for human papillomavirus are creating a stir among school officials, parents and public health officials.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry touched off a firestorm earlier this month when he issued an executive order requiring all sixth-grade girls to receive the vaccine.
The New Mexico Department of Health is working on plans for doing vaccinations for the sexually-transmitted virus that doctors say is a major factor in females developing cervical cancer later in life, according to Chris Minnick, state Department of Health regional public information officer.
He said the vaccinations will be voluntary.
NMDH officials in Region 4, which includes Clovis and Portales, sent school nurses information indicating the state would like to start the vaccinations in March. The inoculations would be offered to girls who are age 11 when the series of three shots, given over six months, begins.
State health officials asked Portales school officials last week to hold distribution of the information to parents while the program details are finalized and vaccine availability is determined.
“They kind of shocked us a little bit by sending the e-mail to the health nurses,” Portales Municipal Schools Superintendent Randy Fowler said. “I think they have some issues that need to be addressed.”
Fowler said district officials haven’t expressed a strong sentiment one way or the other on giving the vaccinations at school. He just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and well informed before it started.
“It sounds like it’s a good thing for girls,” Fowler said. “But mandating it (such as in Texas) sounds like it has some issues.”
Clovis Municipal Schools Director of Nursing Rhonda Sparks said the HPV vaccine will not likely be administered in Clovis schools this school year, but could be in the near future.
The state provided a first wave of vaccines for 11-year-old girls, but not in sufficient amounts to cover girls in each school district, she said.
Lu Ann Fillpot, registered nurse at Farwell Independent School District, is excited her district could be moving ahead with the vaccinations as early as Wednesday. She said the governor’s order would likely not take effect for some time but the vaccine is available and the Texas Department of Health Services is able to start giving the shots on a voluntary basis.
“Who wouldn’t want to vaccinate their daughter against cervical cancer,” Fillpot said. “It’s a powerful tool, why wouldn’t we take advantage of it.”
She said she had sent out an e-mail to faculty about the program and reaction from her coworkers ran the gamut. Comments included the argument vaccinating children against a sexually-transmitted disease would promote promiscuity and some feared it was a scheme by the drug company.
Fillpot is unwavering, though, and said her daughter will be first in line.
Muleshoe Independent School District Superintendent Gene Sheets said his district will be going much slower on the vaccinations. He said the issue hadn’t been thoroughly discussed in the district, however, his feeling was that it was an issue for parents.
If Texas’ mandatory program gets past challenges by citizens and legislators, parents will still be able to chose not to have their child vaccinated, but would have to have a notarized affidavit to do so.
The voluntary program in New Mexico would just require parents signing a consent form for their child to receive the shots.