Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo created controversy when they repealed a law allowing parents with religious objections to opt out of complying with child vaccination laws.
The repeal of New York’s religious exemption made one thing clear: Most New York lawmakers believe that decisions about child vaccination should be made by the state, not by parents. This message raises a troubling question: Will the Legislature look to take further steps to mandate child vaccinations in 2020? What might those steps look like?
One possible move the Legislature might make next year is to pass a law mandating the vaccination of children against the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, many of which are sexually transmitted. In addition to causing genital warts, HPV can lead to cervical cancer and other cancers.
Legislation to mandate the vaccination of children against HPV has been proposed over and over in New York since 2009. The current version of the legislation is Bill S.298-A-Hoylman/A.2912-Paulin. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have asserted that the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is safe and effective; others, however, have raised concerns on both counts.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) believes that in most cases, vaccines against diseases that can be spread through casual contact are a good thing. However, requiring parents to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted disease is a troubling prospect. While there is precedent for such a move (existing New York law requires vaccination against hepatitis B, a disease that is often sexually transmitted), the State of New York should not continue down this road. A mandated vaccination for a sexually transmitted disease implicitly assumes that young people will be sexually active with multiple partners. This assumption is both untrue and damaging; it sends young people message that sexual promiscuity is expected, or even encouraged.
The spread of HPV is disturbing, as is the frequency of cervical cancer. However, when it comes to HPV, New York parents should continue to have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to vaccinate their children.