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Gardasil Immigration Rule Proving Controversial

Oct 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new rule that makes the Gardasil vaccine mandatory for young women seeking U.S. citizenship has sparked anger and protest from immigration advocates and healthcare policy experts.  Immigration groups call the Gardasil rule discriminatory, and charge that it places an unfair financial burden on female immigrants. Meanwhile, policy experts see the requirement as excessive and unnecessary.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services added the Gardasil vaccination requirement in July, and it went into effect on August 1. Under a 1996 immigration law,  any vaccination recommended by the U.S. government for its citizens becomes a requirement for anyone seeking permanent residency in the U.S.  The Centers for Disease Control recommended Gardasil for girls ages 11 through 26 shortly after it was approved in 2006.

Anyone who applies for permanent residency must visit a U.S. - approved physician or clinic to get vaccines and undergo tests in order to receive health clearance. Of the 14 required vaccines, 13 are designed to combat infectious diseases that are transmitted by respiratory route and are considered highly contagious.  But the virus Gardasil targets – HPV – is spread through sexual contact.

One public health expert told The Wall Street Journal that the Gardasil rule is not needed because of the way HPV is spread.  "We don't want someone coming into the U.S. who hasn't been vaccinated against measles or chickenpox," said Dr. Abramson,  chairman of the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. "HPV can only be communicated by sexual contact....This is not something that endangers kids in a school setting or puts your population at risk."

Some immigrant advocates see the Gardasil rule as a ploy to discourage legal immigration by making the process more expensive. The 3-shot Gardasil series can cost between $300 and $1,400. "What we have noticed is that applying for citizenship decreases as the fees go up," Ana Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, told the Dallas Morning News.  "I don't think it's a coincidence that they're pushing for a policy that would provide a burden on immigrants."

Others complain that the safety of Gardasil still has not been established.  "Given the controversy over the vaccine's effectiveness and adverse side effects, mandating the vaccine for immigrant women is premature and is arguably equivalent to using them as test subjects," Priscilla Huang, policy and program director at the National Association of Pacific American Women's Forum, told The Wall Street Journal

Officials at the CDC say that the agency’s Gardasil recommendation was not meant to make the Gardasil vaccine mandatory for immigrants.  A CDC spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that the vaccination committee did not realized the way its Gardasil recommendation would impact immigrants.

Gardasil maker Merck & Co. – which has been aggressively lobbying states to make the vaccine mandatory for young girls - claims it had nothing to do with the immigration rule.  "We were not aware of the policy and we did not lobby for this provision in any way,” a Merck spokesperson said in a statement to the Journal.  However, the statement said that Merck would not engage in any efforts to address the new immigration requirement.


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