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For the first time since the Food and Drug Administration approved the controversial vaccine in June 2006, schools in the District and Virginia are asking that girls entering sixth grade receive the vaccine designed to protect them against HPV, which causes genital warts and can cause cervical cancer. District schools open Monday while most Virginia schools open Sept. 8.

Parents in both jurisdictions can choose to opt out of having their daughters vaccinated. In the District, parents must fill out a form affirming their decision; in Virginia, parents can simply choose not to have their daughters vaccinated.

“This is a liberal opt-out policy,” said Sandra Sommer from Virginia’s Department of Health. “The legislation was passed but parents can opt out without a waiver.”

Supporters of the vaccine say it will help millions of young people avoid contracting one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV and at least half of all sexually active people will acquire the virus in their lifetime. Gardasil, the vaccine, is most effective if administered before a girl becomes sexually active.

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