Assembly OKs bill on vaccine for women

CARSON CITY -- Over the opposition of the Legislature's only gynecologist, the Assembly voted 36-6 Friday for a bill that would require some health insurance companies to provide vaccinations to protect women against cervical cancer.

Senate Bill 409, which Gov. Jim Gibbons is expected to sign once the Senate and Assembly reach agreement on a minor amendment, was approved despite reservations expressed by Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, a Las Vegas Republican who is a gynecologist.

"I hope this vaccine works. I pray it does to alleviate the suffering in women," Mabey said. "But I think it is premature to mandate this."

Mabey and Assemblyman Joe Hardy, a Boulder City Republican who is a family physician, were among the six legislators who opposed the bill. They are the only physicians in the Assembly.

Sen. Joe Heck, a Henderson Republican who is the only physician serving in the Senate, voted against the bill in April when it was approved 14-7 in his house. Heck is an emergency room physician.

Mabey said a study discussed two weeks ago in the New England Journal of Medicine raised questions about the efficacy of the vaccine. The Legislature should wait another session until more information becomes available, he said.

He said companies with self-insured health care policies will not be required to provide the vaccine. Only 30 percent to 35 percent of Nevada girls and women have the type of policies that will be mandated to offer the vaccine, Mabey said.

"People are going to be disappointed," he said. "They are going to say my insurance policy is mandated to provide this when most health insurance policies won't have to pay for it."

Brent Boynton, Gibbons' communications director, said it was very unlikely the governor would veto the bill.

Earlier this month, the parents of a 14-year-old Douglas County girl, Jessica Vega, complained that she lost feeling in her arms and suffered leg paralysis after being vaccinated with Gardasil, intended to protect women against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.

Dr. Bradford Lee, the state health officer, said the symptoms the girl exhibited have not been associated with Gardasil.

During the floor debate, Mabey's fellow Republicans spoke out for SB409.

"This vaccine will prevent cervical cancer in the future," said Assemblywoman Francis Allen, R-Las Vegas.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, noted that under the bill, insurance companies also must offer males screening examinations for prostate cancer.

"It is pretty well proven if you catch it early, you have a good chance for a cure," he said. "If you don't catch it, the Lord or someone else will have to take care of you. I have had so many of my friends who didn't get screened, and I had to take them to their funerals."

The bill combines proposals sponsored by Sens. Bob Coffin and Dina Titus, both D-Las Vegas. The Assembly adopted a minor amendment. The Senate must concur in the amendment before the bill can go to Gibbons for his signature.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last summer that females ages 11 to 26 receive the vaccine. Girls as young as 9 can be given the vaccine, according to the CDC.

Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women. About 470,000 new cases develop each year, and 233,000 women die. Gardasil costs $120 per shot, and women need three shots.

Mabey said HPV has many strains and the vaccine may protect women against some, while new, more resistant strains could develop.

Conservative groups have spoken out against similar bills in other states, contending that the vaccine would lead to girls engaging in sexual activity at an earlier age.

Mabey said that was not a factor in his opposition to the bill.

He said legislators simply needed to wait longer for further research on the effects of the vaccine.