S.C. House upholds Haley veto on HPV vaccine

June 26, 2012 

— The South Carolina House failed Tuesday to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill intended to provide information on and access to a free vaccine that prevents a sexually transmitted, cancer-causing virus.

The House’s 54-47 vote killed the bill, which called for informational brochures on the vaccine for human papillomavirus, known as HPV, to be provided to parents of sixth-graders. Parents could choose to have their seventh-graders receive the vaccine. The bill specifies those provisions depend on funding.

A two-thirds majority was needed for the override.

The socially conservative Republican governor opposed the bill on several fronts. She called it a suspended unfunded mandate, while arguing it’s unnecessary.

“It does not make or keep any child from having that vaccine,” she said Tuesday. “It does nothing.”

She said the important issue needs to be discussed by parents, their children and their doctor, without involving the government. Health agencies don’t need to tell parents what to do, she said.

“I don’t want a leaflet going out making any parent think their child has to have it,” Haley said.

Rep. Bakari Sellers, the bill sponsor, said Haley’s arguments are contradictory and disingenuous. The government doesn’t tell parents to do anything under the bill, but rather provides them with information they can use to have discussions with their doctors, said Sellers, D-Denmark.

That’s especially important for poor parents in rural areas, he said.

Sellers said Haley put politics ahead of women’s health, and that preventing the cancer would save money and lives. He called it a callous veto. He intends to re-introduce the bill next year. He applauded the 16 Republicans who voted to override.

“The governor’s veto message sounded like it was written by a political consultant rather than a former sponsor of an HPV mandate,” he said.

The bill’s completely voluntary nature is what allowed the bill to pass, as opposed to a 2007 proposal that mandated seventh-grade girls receive the vaccine, unless parents opted out. That bill gathered so much heat from faith-based groups, it was unanimously defeated in the House – after the bill’s main sponsor moved to kill it. Haley was a co-sponsor of that bill.

Haley repeated Tuesday what she said on the campaign trail in 2010, that her support of that bill was a mistake. She said having a 14-year-old daughter makes it personal now. She said she’s talked about the vaccine with her daughter’s pediatrician.

Sellers’ bill didn’t attract the opposition of five years ago. Oran Smith, director of the Palmetto Family Council, said his group didn’t have a problem with the bill because it contained no mandate.

Sellers said science is on his side.

The vaccine is supported by Dr. Andrew Kraft, director of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, whose letter was distributed Tuesday to House members.

Kraft noted that the state ranks ninth nationwide for cervical cancer deaths, with African-American women three times more likely to die from it than white women. The state also ranks fifth in deaths from head and neck cancers, he said.

He noted the Federal Drug Administration recommends the HPV vaccine be given to young boys and girls, yet less than 20 percent of those eligible in South Carolina receive the vaccine course.

HPV is responsible for nearly all cervical cancers, 50 percent of cancers of the tongue and tonsils, as well as other less common cancers.

“Importantly, unlike almost all other cancers, a vaccine that targets this cancer-causing virus has been developed and found to be highly effective,” he wrote. “It is up to the people of South Carolina and their elected leaders to figure out a mechanism to get our population vaccinated. Can we prevent cancer? The answer is yes!”

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