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Rhode Island mandates HPV vaccine for seventh-graders

Gardasil is a vaccine against HPV.

Seventh-graders in all public and private schools in Rhode Island are now required to get the HPV vaccine.

Starting this fall, seventh-graders who do not get the vaccine will not be allowed to attend school unless their parents seek an exemption for medical or religious reasons, the Providence Journal reported Tuesday.

Tricia Washburn, chief of the office of immunization for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said the Centers for Disease Control found no safety concerns with the vaccine.

"The bottom line is that HPV is the most sexually transmitted disease in the U.S." she said. "We are interested in protecting the public health. We feel it shouldn't be treated any differently than any of the other vaccines recommended by the CDC."

She said the Department of Health mandated the vaccine, unlike most states, because Rhode Island incorporates all CDC-recommended vaccines into the state's school immunization regulations. Rhode Island joins Virginia and Washington, D.C. in requiring the vaccine.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on national health issues, said there are more than 14 million new infections every year. The virus is linked to genital cancers, particularly cervical cancer in women.

But Christy Ciesla, of Providence, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in women's health, said "there really isn't any good data that this vaccine actually prevents cancer."

In a study of 86,000 children, Ciesla said the research found the vaccine prevented some cervical abnormalities that could lead to cancer.

"If I knew this vaccine would prevent cancer," she said, "I would definitely consider it."

Some concerned parents have begun to petition repeal the regulation through a Facebook group called Rhode Islanders Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations.

The state will hold hearings in August to give parents information and answer their questions.

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