State. Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne (Pic by Senator Altman, via flsenate.gov)

State. Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, has filed legislation that would urge parents to give young girls HPV vaccines upon entering the sixth grade.

The vaccine has become a hot-button issue among conservatives who believe giving young girls a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer promotes promiscuity. HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted virus.

Senate Bill 1116 (.pdf) would require the state’s health department to “adopt a rule adding the human papillomavirus to the list of communicable diseases for which immunizations are recommended.”

Altman’s bill says:

Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, each school shall provide the parent or guardian of a public school student entering grade 6 for whom the human papillomavirus vaccine is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration information, which the Department of Health shall prescribe, regarding the connection between the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. The information must also notify the parent or guardian that a vaccine is available to help prevent human papillomavirus infection and that the vaccine is recommended to be given to females before they enter grade 8.

Presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann sparred over an executive order issued by Perry, the governor of Texas, requiring that girls entering the sixth grade get the vaccine.

The New York Times reported, following a debate in which Bachmann and fellow candidate Rick Santorum attacked Perry for the order, that “the issue pushes many buttons with conservatives: overreach of government in health care decisions, suspicion that sex education leads to promiscuity and even the belief — debunked by science — that childhood vaccinations may be linked to mental disorders.”

The Times reported:

“It’s the perfect storm of an issue,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, noting that Mr. Perry, the front-runner in recent polls, was being attacked from his right flank. “You could tell these blows landed and affected him.”

Although Mrs. Bachmann called the HPV vaccine dangerous, a report last month from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, found that it was generally safe. There is no evidence linking it to mental retardation.

The vaccine is strongly recommended by medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society, to prevent cervical cancer, which kills about 4,000 women in the United States annually.

While Altman’s bill only “recommends” the vaccine, it is surprising that a conservative member of the Legislature would throw his endorsement behind a vaccine largely impugned by social conservatives.

Altman, a former member of the finance committee for St. Mary’s Catholic School, was one of the sponsors of an amendment repealing an existing ban on state funding for religious institutions in Florida’s constitution. The amendment is slated to appear on Florida’s 2012 ballot, but has been challenged by educators, religious leaders and civil liberties advocates.

There is currently no House sponsor for Altman’s bill.

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