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No more Gardasil requirement: a victory for immigrant’s and women’s rights

November 19, 2009

No more pokes for immigrant women. By MSNBC.

In last year’s two-part series on Gardasil, Merck’s human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, I wrote about the U.S. State Department’s requirement for all immigrant women looking to settle permanently in the country to receive at least one of the three-vaccine series. Immediately upon the policy’s announcement, immigrant and reproductive rights groups called it discriminatory, both because of the disparity in health and vaccination requirements for immigrants and American citizens, and for the high cost of the vaccine–the three shot series can topple $1,000–adding to the already monstrous fees for permanent settlement.

Under the policy, immigrant women are required to pay for the vaccine independently, receiving no financial help from the U.S. government (insurance companies also do not cover services required for immigration purposes). What’s more, consumer advocate groups and pharmaceutical watch-dogs were quick to point to the large benefits that Merck–a U.S. based company–would receive from such a requirement: at the time Merck was the only company producing a vaccine that protects HPV (Glaxo-Smith Klein has since come out with it’s own version).

On Tuesday, to the delight of the requirement’s critics (and, presumably, immigrants women and their families), the Associated Press announced that the policy would be revoked by December 14 of this year.

The change in policy is a victory for those concerned with immigrant’s and women’s right to choose what is done to their body, particularly with regards to a pharmaceutical company’s profits trumping human and health rights. In speaking to the AP, Gabriela Valle, senior director of community outreach and mobilization for California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, explained the dual criticism of reproductive rights and increased economic burden. “Not only are you taking my rights to make an informed decision over my body, over myself, over my daughter, but you’re having me pay for it as well.”

While other vaccinations are required for those attempting to settle in the U.S.–and countries worldwide–these generally concern communicable diseases that are highly contagious to the public-at-large, such as polio and measles. While HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, it cannot be transmitted to the general public through touching, coughing, or bodily fluids, and almost exclusively only be passed through sexual contact. For some, requiring immigrant women to get the vaccine–while reserving the very same standards for U.S. citizens–implied that foreign nationals were more sexually licentious than those born and breed “at home,” and fueled historical and contemporary prejudices of immigrants as vectors of disease. Furthermore, such a requirement ignored individual and communities concerns over the safety and implications of women–especially the young–being given the vaccine. While such concerns hampered a nation-wide vaccine requirement and blocked many states from pushing the vaccine, especially for school-age girls, they were not taken into consideration with regards to non-U.S. nationals.

Dropping the Gardasil requirement is part of a larger change in policy by the country’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC). According to the AP, “the CDC’s newly adopted criteria to determine which vaccines will be required for immigrants says the vaccine must be age appropriate. It also must protect against a disease that has the potential to cause an outbreak, has been eliminated in the U.S. or is in the process of being eliminated from the country.

Aside from removing the HPV vaccine mandate, the change also means the Zoster vaccine to protect against shingles won’t be required of immigrants 60 or older.

‘They are not easily transmissible,’ Dr. Katrin Kohl, deputy director in the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine, said of the two. ‘They don’t fit into the whole public health spirit of outbreak prevention.'”

Incidently, Zoster is also a Merck vaccine.

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