By Sarah Starr

As of July 2008, all girls in California could be vaccinated for cervical cancer–the second leading cause of death among women worldwide–before their twelfth birthday.

That’s the hope of Assembly Bill 16 (AB 16), introduced by State Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), which would require every girl in California to receive the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination before entering the sixth grade.

Wenna Vetter, a Santa Cruz resident and mother of a two-year old daughter, feels the bill should be put into effect.

“I think that the vaccination would be a positive thing as long as there aren’t any extreme side effects,” Vetter said. “I can see why it’s such a big issue, especially in Santa Cruz where parents are very concerned with all the required vaccinations.”

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that causes abnormal tissue growth such as warts in both men and women. Certain strands have been linked to the development of cervical cancer.

The bill would also affect local schools, day-care centers and other government facilities. AB 16 utilizes state funds to offset the cost of implementing the vaccination program and to help reimburse families for the expensive vaccinations, which average $120 dollars per shot. The vaccine, Gardasil, is administered in three shots over a six-month period, and is approved for women aged nine to 26.

Gardasil is the first vaccine with the potential to prevent the cancer-causing strands of HPV.

Some feel that the decision to administer the vaccine should be the parents’, rather than the states’.

Linda Klepacki, an analyst of sexual health for the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, feels that while the HPV vaccine should be available to girls of all ages, parents should have the final say in whether the shot is administered to their daughter.

“We’re in support of the vaccine,” Klepacki said. “But we also support parental rights. It’s really their right to make the decision for their children.”

According to Klepacki, the vaccine protects against 70 percent of cervical cancer. The only way to fully protect oneself though, she said, is by practicing abstinence.

Kathleen Genco, a staff member of the Georgina Bruce Kirby Preparatory School in downtown Santa Cruz, also feels that vaccination should be optional, rather than mandatory.

“All the information should be available, so that the parents can be informed and have a choice,” she said.

Megan Leavitt, a third-year UC Santa Cruz student, thinks the bill would be a plus for women–no matter what their age.

She said, “It should at least be available and offered to anybody who could benefit from it.”

_For more information about Gardasil visit www.gardasil.com. The UC Santa Cruz Health Center also offers information on and shots for HPV._