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Indiana changes HPV vaccine notice after criticism

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana health officials have made changes to an effort to boost the number of children vaccinated for the HPV virus after complaints from social conservatives drew the attention of Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette reports that the Indiana State Department of Health has revised a letter sent to about 305,000 parents of Indiana children with no record of having started the three-dose vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The initial notice mentioned the public health risk posed by the common, cancer-causing sexually transmitted disease and strongly urged parents to vaccinate their children.

Now, the notice explicitly states the vaccine is not required. And it also prominently points out that the Indiana State Department of Health regularly reviews immunization records reported to the state’s Children and Hoosier Immunization Registry Program, or CHIRP, and includes a link to have a child’s information permanently removed from the registry.

The health department’s effort came under scrutiny in October when Micah Clark, executive director of the socially conservative American Family Association of Indiana, raised concerns in an email to his supporters after he received a letter regarding his 14-year-old daughter. He called the health department’s effort intrusive and balked at the idea of a state vaccine database keeping track of children.

Soon after, Pence said he wanted to “respect the prerogatives of parents” and indicated he would address criticisms of the effort.

Recent changes made to the letter have been criticized by public health officials, who wrote in a letter of their own addressed to Pence that HPV poses a serious threat.

“This is unfortunate, because the registry is a central component of a comprehensive public health strategy against all vaccine preventable diseases,” a group of 14 doctors and public health advocates wrote. “The concerns are without merit, and merely attempt to unravel important public health advances at the expense of Hoosier health.”

Indiana ranks 40th in the nation for how many girls between the ages of 13 and 16 have been vaccinated, with about 23 percent having received all three doses of the HPV vaccine.

Public health policy related to the HPV vaccine has proven controversial in Indiana. In February, a bill was defeated in the Legislature that would have required the state to establish goals and plans to increase Indiana’s HPV immunization rate to 80 percent among girls and boys between ages 13 and 16. Pence’s office had stepped in against the measure.

While Pence said at the time that he supported vaccinations for the measles and other illnesses now required in state law, he shared concerns that some lawmakers and the public raised about the bill. He also said establishing such a goal might “set Indiana on the path toward mandate, (which) created a concern for many people.”

“I think it is a decision that’s best left to parents in consultation with their doctors,” Pence said.