Cervical cancer vaccine offered cheap
EAGLE COUNTY – For about the cost of new CD, women and girls between the ages of 9 and 18 can be immunized against a sexually-transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer.Eagle County’s public health officials are offering the Gardisal vaccine, which immunizes women against certain strains of the Human Papillomavirus, better known as HPV, for $5 a shot. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over six months. Typically, shots can run over $100 a dose, although many insurance companies cover the cost of the vaccine, according to county officials.HPV causes cervical cancer, genital warts and abnormal cell growth on the cervix. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States; 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The American Cancer Society estimates in that in 2006, more than 9,700 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. About 3,700 women will die from the disease. “This is the first vaccine that prevents cancer,” said Jill Hunsaker, Eagle County’s public health manager. “We are so fortunate to have this resource, which will benefit the next generation of young people.” Females who have not yet become sexually active will benefit the most from the vaccine, because it does not treat the virus once a person is exposed, said Dr. Drew Werner, who sees patients at the Eagle Medical Clinic. The vaccine is especially recommended for girls ages nine to 11, but can be given up to age 26. It prevents 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts caused by HPV, according to Merck, the manufacturer of the vaccine. The vaccine is not approved for boys and men.Despite the medical community’s enthusiasm for the vaccine, there is some controversy surrounding Gardisal. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, issued an order earlier this month making Texas the first state to require that schoolgirls get vaccinated. Some parents rights advocates and conservative religious groups are protesting the decision. Some argue that the giving the vaccine will encourage girls to be sexually promiscuous. Werner disagreed.”An STD has never, ever stopped people from having sex,” Werner said. Young people are influenced by parents and the community when it comes to sex, he said. “Just because (a girl) is protected from an STD doesn’t mean she’s going to have sex,” Werner added. Most people don’t know they have HPV, and women typically only find out when the results of a Pap smear – a test performed on the cervix – are abnormal, Werner said. “Fortunately, most people’s immune systems clear the virus and they never know they had it,” said Nancy Schurr, a county nurse practitioner. “Otherwise, it can cause pre-cancerous changes of the cervix and lead to cervical cancer.” If pre-cancerous cells are detected, a doctor will try to remove those cells from the cervix, typically by freezing them off, Werner said. The county health department is offering the vaccine at a low cost through a special state immunization program.