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Governor weighs in on criticism of HPV vaccine letter

October 24, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence said his administration is looking into objections raised by religious conservatives after the Indiana State Department of Health sent letters to parents who haven't vaccinated their children for a type of cervical cancer.

The letter was sent to about 305,000 parents of Indiana children with no record of having started the three-dose vaccine for human papilloma virus, or HPV. The letter encourages them to have their children vaccinated.

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.

"We certainly want to respect the prerogatives of parents. The role of the state department of health in making information available to families is longstanding. We'll look into it and make sure it's clarified," Pence told The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

The vaccination prevents the most common types of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer and genital warts. 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.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Jennifer O'Malley said the letters were sent starting the week of Sept. 21 to parents of children with no record of having started the HPV series in the state immunization information system, which is called the Children and Hoosier Immunization Registry Program.

She said the agency's immunization division regularly checks the system and sends reminder notices to those missing a vaccine. The registry tracks both required and recommended vaccines.

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 of 13 and 16. Pence's office had stepped in against the measure.

While the Republican governor 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."

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