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Young woman rejects HPV vaccine and loses path to citizenship

Last year I wrote about how Gardasil, the relatively new HPV vaccine, had been added to the list of required vaccines for people seeking to adjust their immigration statuses.

Numerous immigration groups came out in opposition to this requirement, stating that it posed a unfair financial barrier to immigrant women, who already take on a lengthy and costly process to become citizens.

Well now one of the first reported cases of a young woman losing her path to citizenship because of Gardasil, via ABC.

For the last near decade, Davis has embarked on a quest to get Simone U.S. citizenship. Now 17 and an aspiring elementary school teacher and devout Christian, Simone has only one thing standing in the way of her goal — the controversial vaccine Gardasil. Immigration law mandates that Simone get the vaccine to protect against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which has been linked to cervical cancer. But Simone, who has taken a virginity pledge and is not sexually active, doesn’t see why she should have to take the vaccine, especially since it’s been under fire recently regarding its safety. And none of her American classmates is mandated by law to be vaccinated. “I am only 17 years old and planning to go to college and not have sex anytime soon,” said Simone. “There is no chance of getting cervical cancer, so there’s no point in getting the shot.”

I think a vaccine that helps prevent the transmission of HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections which is linked to cervical cancer, is a good thing. While the Gardasil campaign had some shady elements because of the role of Merck, the pharmaceutical company behind Gardasil, and it’s advocacy on behalf of mandates nationwide, it seems they haven’t had a role in this.

Merck & Co., which makes Gardasil, said it had no involvement in the enactment of the mandate. “Merck recognizes that many individuals and groups are concerned over this requirement and emphasizes that, while we encourage all women to be educated about HPV-related diseases, the company does not support mandatory vaccination of new female immigrants,” said Merck spokeswoman Pam Eisele.

It seems that Gardasil appeared on the list of required vaccines for immigrant women more by default than by anyone’s deliberate efforts. From the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health:

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in 2007 recommended that Gardasil, the only FDA approved HPV vaccine, be administered to females ages 11 to 26 in the U.S. This recommendation became an automatic requirement for those applying for immigrant visas or adjustment to permanent residency status when the government updated its vaccination list in July 2008. U.S. citizens are currently not required to receive the vaccination, and yet it is mandatory for prospective immigrants.

While I don’t necessarily agree with this young woman’s reasons for not being vaccinated, it’s obvious that this vaccine mandate adds a huge financial barrier for immigrant women trying to adjust their status.

The vaccine is prohibitively expensive-costing a minimum of $360 to receive the three-dose vaccination in addition to over $1,000 in filing fees-making the mandate an undue financial burden for prospective immigrant women and their families.

The other part of this that doesn’t make sense is that HPV is not a infectious disease like the others on the list of mandated vaccines. It’s a sexually transmitted infection, which, while serious, is not a public health emergency, causing the question of why it needs to be mandated for immigrant women.

Some health care policy experts suggested the requirement was excessive and unnecessary. Of the 14 required vaccines, 13 are designed to combat infectious diseases that are considered highly contagious. But Gardasil targets a virus spread through sexual contact.

According to ABC, the CDC will be publishing new requirements next month, so they have an opportunity to reconsider this requirement. Advocates have been working hard to get it reversed, so we’ll see what happens.

Cross-posted at Feministing.com

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