Charleston will host the first-ever Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina Summit this week.
State Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, who launched a campaign in 2013 for lieutenant governor and is a vocal advocate for cervical cancer vaccinations, will deliver the summit's keynote address at the Doubletree Hotel on Friday.
Sellers introduced a bill in the House of Representatives last year that would allow the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to administer a series of three shots to guard against the human papillomavirus virus, or HPV, to all seventh-grade students in the state.
HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease, can cause cervical cancer.
The proposed Cervical Cancer Prevention Act would allow parents to opt their children out of the vaccines. It also does not require DHEC to administer them if the Legislature does not allocate enough money to fund the law. It would cost South Carolina about $465,000 in state funds to implement the program, DHEC estimates.
Nearly $2 million more in federal money may be available to pay for the vaccines through the government's Vaccines for Children program.
The bill, which passed the House in May with bipartisan support, has been referred to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee for consideration. If passed by the Senate this year, it must be signed by Gov. Nikki Haley to become law. Haley vetoed a similar bill in 2012.
"My hope is that we can come together," Sellers said. "I have the full support of MUSC and the cancer institute, and I hope it doesn't get drug into partisan politics."
Sellers' mother was diagnosed with a different form of cancer about a year ago, he said.
"We have to make South Carolina a healthier place to live for women," he said.
The General Assembly reconvenes for the year on Jan. 14.
South Carolina ranks 14th in the U.S. for the cervical cancer diagnoses and seventh for cervical cancer deaths, according to a press release about the summit.
"There are a lot of people in South Carolina working to address the burden of cervical cancer through prevention, including HPV vaccination, screening and follow-up care," said summit co-chairwoman Heather Brandt, a faculty member in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, in a statement.
"The summit offers an opportunity for these stakeholders to discuss the problem and explore solutions," she said.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.