Superintendent: State won’t push HPV vaccine on schools

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ph.D., doesn’t expect a repeat by the Legislature to require the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to be required for all students born after Jan. 2, 2009.

Mr. Doelger said he’s basing his expectations on advice from the New York State Council of School Superintendents predicting that legislators, burned by last June’s decision to ban students without immunizations against a number of communicable diseases, wouldn’t want to go that route again.

The state organization doesn’t see the proposed legislation going anywhere, Mr. Doelger said.

At the same time, the superintendent recommends that those who are concerned by the legislation should write to their state legislative representatives to let them know their objections.

A groundswell of letters and telephone calls would help discourage legislators from pushing forward with a proposal to require immunization as of Sept. 1, 2021.

In nearby Southold, the Board of Education sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) stating their objections to the proposed law. Their action came on the heels of hearing from a district parent who objected to the requirement.

The school board’s letter said since HPV can only be transmitted through sexual contact, it posed “no threat to the school-aged population at large.”

Requiring school-aged students to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease or be denied entrance to school is “unconscionable,” the letter said.

The vaccine is designed to prevent cancer-causing infections and pre-cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Its statistics show a sharp drop in HPV infections and cervical pre-cancers.

But the educators’ stance is that parents should decide whether or not their children should be given the vaccine.

Last September on Shelter Island, a small group of parents sought pressure from the Board of Education to at least delay the other vaccines, but were turned down. At the request of the parents, Mr. Doelger had sent a letter during the summer to the court hearing a case that sought to overturn the law. But the parents said they subsequently learned the judge could not enter the letter into evidence. It had to come from an attorney. A few parents said they would have to make other arrangements to home school their children rather than have them inoculated. On the due date at which students had to show proof of inoculations or be banned from school, none of those students showed up, Mr. Doelger said.

It’s unclear whether any of those students subsequently received the vaccinations or opted for home schooling or moved to a state where such a law didn’t exist. 

Some members of the Board of Education said it troubled them to be put in a position where they would have to ban students from classrooms because of a law that was passed by the state legislature “in the dark of the night,” as Mr. Doelger said.

The Board of Education also noted that last year’s law didn’t require that teachers and other staff members prove they had vaccinations, nor were visitors to the school required to prove they had been vaccinated against communicable diseases. In addition, students not vaccinated weren’t banned from attending after-school events, mixing with the same students they were banned from interacting with in classrooms.

The present New York vaccination bill was introduced by State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan). A version of the bill is in committee in both the state Senate and Assembly.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) stated his objection to last year’s vaccination bill, strongly arguing that it should not have taken away the right of people who objected to vaccinations because of religious convictions.

The legislation is a part of the governor’s partnership with Merck’s ILÚM Health Solutions in creating a platform to detect, treat and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

A Merck subsidiary announced plans in 2018 for a $48 million investment in Albany over a five-year period, saying it would create 115 jobs, according to the Albany Business Review.

A statement from the governor’s office at the time said ILÚM would partner with OpGen Inc. and the New York Department of Health on a new “research program to detect, track and manage antimicrobial-resistant infections at healthcare institutions statewide.”