Bush Administration Forcing HPV Vaccine On Immigrants

ap_gardasil_080625_mn.jpg In July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services quietly amended its list of required vaccinations for immigrants applying to become citizens. One of the newest requirements? Gardasil, which vaccinates against the human papillomavirus (HPV). From the agency’s press release:

CDC’s revised Technical Instructions to Civil Surgeons for Vaccination Requirements require the following age-appropriate additional vaccinations to adjust status to legal permanent resident:

* Rotavirus
* Hepatitis A
* Meningococcal
* Human papillomavirus
* Zoster

This regulation goes directly against the advice of Dr. Jon Abramson, chairman of the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices. In Feb. 2007, Abramson said that he and other committee members advised that Gardasil should not be mandatory because HPV is not a communicable disease like chicken pox.

The problem with this regulation is that the HPV vaccine is not mandatory for U.S. citizens. Therefore, U.S. citizens are allowed to weight the costs and risks associated with Gardasil, but immigrants are forced to pay-out-of-pocket for a vaccine they might not want to take. Some of the problems with this scenario:

Cost: Without health insurance, the three-shot vaccine can cost $162 per dose, making it the most expensive vaccine on the market. Gardasil manufacturer Merck, which lobbied heavily for state mandates for school girls, would profit greatly from the new regulations

Testing on underserved populations: WOC PhD writes how immigrants and women of color have historically been used as human test subjects: “[Although] Gardasil has already been approved by the FDA recent complications in patients using the drug, 3500 major complaints in a single year and 8000 since the approval, as well as multiple deaths, could indicate that more testing is needed. Why pull the drug off the market when you can study the results through a mandated population?”

Immigration barrier: Jessica Arons, Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, expressed concerns to ThinkProgress that this mandate will block women from immigrating: “Given Gardasil’s high cost, and the fact that there does not seem to be a public health justification for this particular mandate, I’m concerned that its real purpose is to create a financial barrier for immigrant women who seek to lawfully enter this country.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection in the United States. The two most deadly strains are “responsible for most of the cervical cancer in the U.S., affecting over 10,000 women each year and killing more than 3,700 of them.”

Gardasil has so far proven to be extremely effective in preventing women from contracting HPV and should remain a widely available option for women. But as Jill at Feministe notes, “[E]very woman deserves the right to decide for herself if the benefits of Gardasil outweigh the risks. And we all need to be vigilant when we see the history of reproductive exploitation of bodies of color repeating itself.”