HPV Vaccine: A first for UP

By The Beacon | September 23, 2010 9:00pm

For the first time the UP Health Center is providing the HPV vaccination Gardasil to women at a reduced price

Junior Marshawna Williams hangs up a flier in Villa Maria Hall to inform UP female students about the upcoming HPV vaccines. (Alissa White -- The Beacon)

By Laura Frazier, Staff Writer -- frazier13@up.edu

On Sept. 30, the UP Health Center will offer the Human Papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil to female students between 19 and 26 years of age, at a reduced cost of $15 per shot. This is the first time UP has offered the vaccine, but the supply is limited.

Gardasil is becoming increasingly popular. Many women are choosing to protect themselves from HPV, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that that can cause genital warts and different types of cancer such as penile in men and cervical in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since HPV is an STI, the CDC recommends the vaccination before the onset of sexual activity.

According to the CDC, 12,000 women in the U.S are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 4,000 die from it.

However, most people contract the virus without ever experiencing complications.

There are dozens of strains of HPV, and Gardasil protects against four of the most common.

CDC statistics show that 50 percent of sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives, though in 90 percent of cases the body kills the virus on its own.

Though most women who contract HPV will not develop cancer, they should protect themselves regardless, according to Cathie Gurgel, University Health Center family nurse practitioner.

"Many women will clear out the virus within a year or two," she said. "But that doesn't always happen."

The clinic is funded by the federal stimulus package, and the vaccine was offered to college health centers at a reduced price. UP requested 400 doses, which will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis.

Though this is likely a one-time opportunity for UP students to get the vaccine at the reduced cost, if there is enough student interest there may be more clinics in the future, said Tim Crump, also a family nurse practitioner at the Health Center.

"We need to hear from students," he said. "If we know the need is out there, we can set up more clinics."

Gardasil is given in three doses. After the first dose, patients receive another two months later and the third dose six months after the first. UP wants to be able to give all three shots to students.

"When we heard about the program we were very excited about it," he said. "We can provide until supply runs out, and can't guarantee that we are giving all three shots, but we hope to."

The clinic is also offering make-up shots for those who may have missed a dose. Crump said that the timeline should not be a concern for students who will not be on campus long enough to get all three shots.

"It's perfectly reasonable to start now. You can always play catch up later," Crump said. "Don't delay based on the timeline."

Gurgel agrees that following the exact timeline is not as vital as people may think.

"What is most important is that you have the right amount of time between the first and last dosage," she said.

According to the CDC, a person is more likely to get HPV if he or she has many sexual partners. Yet even a person who has only one partner in a lifetime still can become infected because of the partner's previous relationships.

Although the vaccine can only protect against HPV and does not cure it, Crump recommends that students get the vaccine even if they have already been sexually active, because it can protect against other strains of HPV they may not have contracted.

Crump won't predict what kind of turnout there will be for the HPV clinic because he does not know how many students have already been vaccinated. But he expects it to be popular based on the price of the vaccine, which can run up to a total of $500 for all three shots at a regular clinic.

Junior Marissa Nardinger has not been vaccinated but plans to take advantage of the low price. However, she is concerned about the popularity of the vaccine.

"I think it's a very good opportunity for people," she said. "I am worried that they won't have enough vaccines, especially at that cost."

Nardinger is also concerned about the long-term side effects of the vaccine, because Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration less than five years ago. But she is confident in her decision to get vaccinated based on her research.

"The fact is a new vaccine makes me worry," she said. "I just like to get my research straight before I try anything new."

Crump assures students that the vaccine has been proven thus far to be more beneficial than detrimental.

"Going by the scientific evidence, as I understand it, I wholeheartedly recommend the vaccine," he said. "The benefits of protection against cervical cancer and genital warts far outweigh the risk."

The short-term side effects include pain at the injection site and fainting.

Freshman Katie Ballantyne is happy that she decided to get the vaccine before coming to UP.

"I am glad I got it because you never know what might happen to you," she said. "I feel more protected now."

Women under 18 cannot get vaccinated at the upcoming clinic because the state placed certain restrictions on the program, Crump explained.

"The state is trying to make it available to people without insurance," he said, "and most people under 18 are still covered by their parents."

Another condition is that the vaccine is available for female students only. Though men can get genital warts and some types of cancer from HPV, the risks are higher for females.

Crump said men are typically carriers of HPV who transmit the virus to their partners but don't actually develop cancers as frequently as women. However, he still encourages them to get vaccinated.

"As long as men remain a reservoir for the HPV virus it's going to be a problem," he said.

Though Crump believes that men should be conscious of HPV, Junior Patrick Torrellas thinks that many men are unaware of how they can be affected by the virus.

"I just hadn't thought about it," he said. "But I am sure that I do care now that it's becoming more of an issue."

Gurgel said that it's hard to diagnose men who do develop cancer from HPV.

"It was pretty sobering reading the information about the incidents of HPV and anal cancer," Gurgel said. " You don't really screen for that."

Most importantly, Gurgel wants to see women protected.

"I want to do everything I can to see they get these vaccines," she said.

Overall, the Health Center is just happy to be able to vaccinate as many women as they can, Crump said.

"It's such a joy to be doing something with prevention instead of treatment," he said.

(Graphic courtesy of Rob Bouwman -- fotolia.com)