Bill to combat sexually transmitted HPV moves forward in S.C. Senate

A second push in the past two years to create a program that would provide an option for parents to vaccinate their middle school children against a common sexually transmitted infection cleared a hurdle in the S.C. Senate on Wednesday.

The bill would set up a state program to implement a voluntary vaccination and education program on human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cancer. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection and anyone can contract it, including those who only have sex with one partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Doctors generally recommend vaccinations for 11- and 12-year-olds, supporters said.

A Senate subcommittee advanced the bill, H. 3236, to the full Medical Affairs Committee. The S.C. House has already passed the bill. Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, voted against the measure. The program would cost about $465,000 and would provide vaccinations to those who don't qualify for other federal and state programs.

Bright said in an interview that he's concerned that information about potential side effects of the HPV vaccine might not be presented to parents. "We all want to prevent cancer," he said. "(Parents and children) need to know the pros and cons."

The bill has already passed the General Assembly before, only to be vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley. Haley supported the measure when she was a member of the S.C. House but vetoed it as governor in 2012 because she said the decision to vaccinate is up to parents.

"As a mother of a teenage daughter, Governor Haley, like the majority of South Carolinians, believes that health decisions like this are best left up to parents and doctors - not state government," Haley's spokesman Doug Mayer said Wednesday.

Lisa Kerr, a 42-year-old from Charleston, told the committee that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by HPV in 2010. She wept as she described her ability to have children being taken away after surgery and treatment.

"Any of us who is sexually active can get it," Kerr said. Many believe that only those who have promiscuous sex can get the virus. Kerr and others said that is not true.

Kerr said the state needs to "help eliminate the stigmas ... and lack of knowledge that keeps South Carolinians from making responsible health choices."

Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, the sponsor of the bill, said that Kerr's story is all the governor or anyone else needs to know about the bill as HPV is preventable with vaccine. He said this year a more "concerted effort" has pushed the bill, including the support of former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford.

"This is about people who suffer, who can't have children," Sellers said. "I don't know why anybody would not be for this, especially a mother."

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.