Starting last week, the HPV vaccine called Gardasil became available at University Health Services.
Human papilloma virus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. There are four types that are most prevalent: strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. Strains 16 and 18 account for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and the other two strains cause genital warts. The newly developed vaccine, which was approved in June 2006 by the Food and Drug Administration, protects against all four types of HPV.
The vaccine was developed at the UR Medical Center by a team of researchers: Associate Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology Robert Rose; Associate Professor of Medicine William Bonnez, M.D. and Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases Richard Reichman.
“We began our studies in the mid-1980s and at that time the evidence was gathering that certain strains of HPV were involved in the development of cervical cancer,” Dr. Robert Rose said. “The proof wasn’t in yet.”
Over the next 20 years, multiple clinical trials were run, culminating in a 50,000-subject study that proved the efficacy of the vaccine.
“In studies done by both companies, the vaccine was found to be 100 percent effective in preventing the precursor lesions of cervical cancer,” Rose said. “It’s like a fairytale.”
Here at UR, there are a few steps involved in getting the HPV vaccine. First, a student must see a provider at UHS, who will write a prescription. The student must then go to Strong Memorial Hospital pharmacy to pick up the prescription and bring it back to UHS, where it will be administered.
The vaccine consists of a series of three shots. The first shot is followed by a second one two months later, with the third and final shot being administered six months after the first one. Each shot is $150, bringing the total cost of an HPV vaccine to $450. Surprisingly enough, $450 is one of the cheapest HPV vaccines in Rochester. According to Associate Director for Clinical Operation and Nursing Terri Winter, other clinics have charged anywhere up to $180 per shot. Some pharmacies don’t even carry the vaccine; a patient would instead have to order it and wait, whereas here at UR, the vaccine is at the pharmacy.
To receive a vaccine, the female must be between the ages of 13 and 26 years of age; this is called a catch-up vaccine because a wide range of females are being treated for it. In the future, the vaccine will mainly be administered to girls ages 11 and 12. However, it will take years to completely “catch up.” As of right now, males are down the line.
The vaccine does have some very mild side effects, such as mild pain and/or redness at the injection site, mild fever (100 degrees) and itching. The symptoms do not last long and go away on their own.
The vaccine is available to both sexually active and non-sexually active students. According to the Center for Disease Control, it is unlikely that one person will have all four types of HPV at one time, so even if a student is sexually active, the student should still get the vaccine to protect against the other types.
“I leave it up to the individual person,” Winter said. “This is what we have, this is what it can do and I let the person make the decision.”
The main deterrent of all females getting the vaccination is the cost. Students under UR’s insurance of Blue Cross Blue Shield are not covered for the vaccine. Winter is looking into expanding into the community to try and find a more cost-efficient way of administering the vaccine to students.
However, some students seem eager to protect themselves no matter the cost.
“I think I’d rather just get the vaccine now as opposed to later because later I could have already contracted HPV,” sophomore Calley Beckwith said. “I just want to protect myself against cancer and I think everyone feels that way.”Halusic can be reached at email@example.com.