Doctors promote HPV vaccine

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

While many of the strains of the most commonly spread sexually transmitted disease, human papillomavirus, can now be prevented by a vaccine, some college-age women have yet to receive it.

Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, protects against four types of the disease, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. Many women said they’ve put it off because the vaccine is too much of a time commitment. The vaccine has to be administered three times over the course of six months: the second round, two months after the original injection, and the third, six months after the first. “I’m still going to get it next year,” said Nicki Soldner, freshman in AHS. “I don’t want to start now and have to come back to Champaign over the summer every month to get a shot.”

Kathleen Buetow, pediatrician at Carle Foundation Hospital and the head of the department of pediatrics at the College of Medicine, said most of the adolescents she sees are anxious to get the vaccine, but those who aren’t getting the vaccine probably don’t understand its purpose.

“(Some women are) denying the possibility that they could be infected,” Buetow said.

The cost of the vaccine can also be out of the woman’s price range. Each shot costs $120, which adds up to $360 for the whole series. According to an article in the New York Times, it is one of the most expensive vaccines created. But Buetow said that the vaccine is covered by Illinois public aid and often by private insurance.

The cost problem goes beyond the patients. Buetow said that physicians have to buy the vaccine in order to administer it. While it isn’t a problem that a large hospital like Carle might encounter, a private practice might have trouble buying enough vaccines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics added the HPV vaccine for girls 11 to 12 years of age, with catch-up immunization of girls 13 to 18 years of age, to its 2007 immunization schedule. The schedule has been endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Some have criticized these organizations for promoting the vaccination of girls at such a young age. But Buetow said she encourages the shot for young women prior to puberty, as well as women up through age 24.

“Younger cells in the genital track are more likely to get the infection,” Buetow said, explaining why junior high-age girls should receive the vaccine. She said that tests are still pending for women in higher age brackets.

She said that it is important not to tie the vaccine to sexuality, and it isn’t unorthodox that young children would receive vaccines for an STD. In fact, she said that infants already receive a vaccine that protects them against an STD when they get hepatitis B shots.

While the vaccine is most effective for females who have not had sexual contact, Buetow said that it isn’t too late for a sexually active young woman to get the vaccine.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson introduced a bill into the Illinois House in January recommending that all girls of junior high-age get the vaccine as part of their school physical, like the vaccine for mumps. Other states have posed similar legislation that would require girls to receive the vaccine.

But Buetow said that many members of the medical community have stepped back from supporting a mandate for the vaccine. She said there is still a lot unknown about the vaccine, like how long its immunity lasts. It is still unsure whether or when patients might need booster shots. Also, she said that the vaccine is still not affordable or easily accessible enough for the government to mandate.

“I support the use of the vaccine – strongly,” Buetow said. “But I think we need to sit back before we mandate it.”

Kiley Taslitz, sophomore in Business, said she is happy she is receiving the vaccine.

“It hurts a little and your arm swells up, but it’s totally worth it,” said Taslitz, who recently got her second shot of Gardasil.