Bill lets minors get HPV vaccine without parents' OK

October 11, 2011 12:29:55 AM PDT
One of the bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown is setting off a firestorm among parents and religious groups. It gives young girls access to a life-saving vaccine without getting their parent's permission.

Starting Jan. 1, 2012, California minors as young as 12 years old have the right to get preventative treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without parental permission. That includes the HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix, which help prevent many strains of cervical cancer.

The human papillomavirus is the world's second -leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

"It's always a close question as to what we might allow, but we do that with other reproductive kinds of issues, and I felt this one is similar to what we've done before," Brown said.

The governor's signature, though, touched off a firestorm with critics saying it intrudes on parental rights.

The Masinas family likes the availability of an anti-cancer vaccine but doesn't like the government encouraging kids to go behind their parents' backs.

"I think the parents should be involved in that decision; I don't agree with as young as 12 without parental permission," Martinez mother Beverly Masinas said.

Social conservatives are angry that taxpayer money could be used to pay for the series of three shots over several months that could cost up to $500 per child.

"If her parents aren't aware of it, she will be emancipated and the state will be paying for every single minor that's encouraged into a clinic and get three different boosters," Capitol Resources Institute spokesperson Karen England said.

But Dr. Jacob Lalezari, a lead investigator in HPV research, says the debate shouldn't center around moral or ethical grounds but on the benefits; it's most effective when it's given before a girl is sexually active.

"That their daughters might be engaging in sexual activity should not be a reason to prevent the vast majority of young women from having access to a vaccine that could essentially save their lives," Lalezari said.

Cervical cancer survivor Marlene Von Friederichs-Fitzwater doesn't wish anyone to go through what she did.

"I would urge anyone that's eligible to have the vaccine, absolutely much better than going through the disease," Friederichs-Fitzwater said.

In addition to the HPV vaccine, the law also allows 12-year-olds to get other STD prevention treatments, including hepatitis shots and medication to reduce the risk of HIV infection after exposure.