The debate over the mandated HPV vaccine for 7th graders promises to continue as the Department of Health (HEALTH) has scheduled two additional community meetings on the immunization and opponents don’t appear to be backing down.
On Monday night, August 17, just before HEALTH’s Community meeting at the Cumberland Public Library, almost 100 people showed up in protest of the mandate, according to Michael Stenhouse, Director of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. He said the grassroots movement is really gaining momentum as more parents are becoming concerned for their children.
“If something doesn’t happen with this mandate, these problems will come up every year when there’s a new batch of 7th graders and another group of unhappy parents,” he said.
Despite this, Stenhouse said the department is “holding their ground,” on the issue and continuing with the vaccination mandate.
In a HEALTH press release Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health, said, “By incorporating HPV vaccination into our state’s school immunization regulations, we will be helping to prevent the serious, and sometimes fatal, health consequences of HPV for generations of Rhode Islanders.”
In their community meetings, the department explains that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the safe vaccine for all 7th graders, but some opponents argue that the immunization had compromised their children’s health.
“Some of the problems families faced were severe,” Stenhouse said. “The parents had no proof it was the vaccine, but the symptoms would start weeks or even days after in seemingly perfectly healthy children.”
Linda McLaughlin, co-founder of the Rhode Islander Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations, the local opposition, said she was happy to see the energy from the rally “carry over” into the public meeting. She said after HEALTH’s presentation opponents asked a lot of questions and really voiced their concerns.
“People are starting to see our side,” she said. “They can tell this is against our human rights.”
Both McLaughlin and Stenhouse hope Governor Gina Raimondo “steps up” and does away with the mandate.
Stenhouse says the “political pressure” will only increase, adding that the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights is prepared to file a suit against the state to challenge the legality of the mandate.
“It’s an invasion of privacy,” Stenhouse said. “This is a personal matter.”
His main concern with the mandate is that it takes away a parent’s right to “informed consent.”
The role of the government he said is to educate the public, even to advocate one way or the other on the vaccine, but to mandate it is “overreaching.”
Despite the mandate, HEALTH is “not interested in excluding children from school due to a lack of vaccination” but will work throughout the year with parents and schools.
Similarly, the department is offering the option of an “immunization exemption” for parents with a “deep conviction” against the vaccine.
“The Department of Health is starting to make concessions,” Stenhouse said, “so why not just do away with the mandate altogether?”
The additional two public meeting will be at West Warwick High School on August 25 at 6:30 to 8 p.m. and at the Middletown Public Library August 27 from 6:00 to 8 p.m. For more information on the mandate or the public meetings visit www.health.ri.gov/hpv.