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HPV Vaccine Now Required for All 7th-Grade Students in Rhode Island

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Seventh-grade students in Rhode Island will be required to get the HPV vaccine to attend public or private schools this fall, the Providence Journal reports.

The mandate comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces that, nationwide, many adolescents are still not getting the HPV vaccine.

With the new rule, Rhode Island becomes one of just a few states to require the vaccine, and the only one to require it for both boys and girls. Washington, D.C., and Virginia are the only other jurisdictions to mandate the vaccine, both for girls only, according to the Immunization Action Coalition.

Rhode Island will allow exemptions from the vaccine requirement for religious or medical reasons.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cancer (most commonly cervical cancer).

Many states began considering HPV vaccine mandates after a CDC committee recommended them for girls in 2007, but few of those proposals became law. The committee later recommended the vaccines for boys as well.

On Thursday, the CDC released findings from its 2014 National Immunization Survey, showing that the number of 13- to 17-year-old boys and girls getting the HPV vaccine increased slightly for the second year in a row. About 60 percent of adolescent girls and 42 percent of adolescent boys have received one or more doses of HPV vaccine, the survey showed. That's an increase of 3 percentage points for girls and 8 percentage points for boys from the 2013 estimates.

"Despite these increases, 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections," the CDC said in a news release. "Persistent HPV infections can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women; cancers of the penis in men; and cancers of the anus and oropharynx (back of the throat, base of the tongue, and tonsils) in men and women."

Vaccine requirements of all forms are controversial to some parents, but there's added controversy with HPV vaccine requirements because the virus is transmitted sexually.

Such mandates played a role in the 2012 presidential election when socially conservative fellow Republican candidates questioned Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to mandate the HPV vaccine for the state's girls in 2007, a decision that was overturned by the legislature at the time. Perry reversed course during his presidential bid, calling his executive order "a mistake."

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