Public Gets Chance to Sound Off on HPV Mandate

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AUSTIN (AP) - Doctors, public health experts and cervical cancer survivors are expected to testify tomorrow at a public hearing on legislation aimed at overriding the governor's HPV vaccine mandate.

The bill by state Representative Dennis Bonnen -- a Republican from Angleton -- would bar the state from requiring schoolgirls to be inoculated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The hearing marks the first chance for the public to comment on Governor Rick Perry's February 2 mandate.

Perry's order directed the Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules requiring the vaccine for girls entering sixth grade as of September 2008.

The shots protect girls and women from the HPV strains that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts.

It prompted a flood of criticism from conservatives who say it contradicts Texas' abstinence-only sex education policies and strays too far into the lives of families.

Critics also balk at the $360 cost for the three-shot series and said the vaccine -- called Gardasil -- is too new to force on children as young as 11 or 12.

But the governor and the mandate's supporters say the vaccine offers a unique opportunity to fight a cancer that kills 3,700 American women annually.