The shocking new epidemic

Approximately 20 million
Americans, the majority of
whom are women, are currently
infected with HPV, the
human papillomavirus. In fact,
HPV is one of the more commonly
contracted sexually
transmitted diseases among
college-aged females, and the
numbers keep growing. Every
year, more than six million
Americans will become
infected, but the disease is
much more dangerous for
women, since it increases their
chances of developing cervical
cancer, according to the
Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.

On Thursday, April 12, a
lecture entitled “Gardasil: To
Vaccinate or Not to
Vaccinate?” was held by
Lambda Kappa Sigma at St.
John’s University, regarding
HPV, its risk factors, potential
effects, and moral implications
of getting vaccinated.
There are more than 100
types of the virus, but strands
16 and 18 are the two that
pose the highest-risk. They
are responsible for about 70
percent of cases of cervical
cancer in women, while
strands 6 and 11 are the two
most common low-risk
strands, causing genital warts.

Statistics from the United
State Department of Health
and Human Services in 2004
show that younger women are
more likely to contract HPV,
but various other factors could
also affect a woman’s chances,
including an early age of sexual
intercourse, an increasing
number of sexual partners, as
well as never being
screened for the disease,
immunosuppression, tobacco
use, long-term use of
oral contraceptives, coinfection,
parity, and poor

Screening for the disease
includes pap smears
and HPV DNA tests.
In June 2006, Gardasil
was the first FDAapproved
vaccine for HPV
to be released. The vaccine
protects against the four
most common strands of
the disease, thus reducing a
woman’s risk of developing
cervical cancer or pre-cancerous
and abnormal lesions.

Gardasil is recommended
for females between the ages
of 13-26, but girls as young
as nine may also be vaccinated.
It is generally recommended
by the Centers for
Disease Control and
Prevention for females to be
vaccinated before the onset of
sexual activity. Over 11,000
females aged 9-26 have
already been vaccinated.

Gardasil is administered in
a series of three injections,
spanning six months, and usually
costs $120 per dose,
although children under the
age of 19 who are uninsured
may possibly be provided with
the vaccine for free. In clinical
trials of the vaccine, it has
been 100% effective in preventing
pre-cancers caused by
the targeted HPV strands.

Current studies indicate that
the vaccine is effective for at
least five years. It is yet to be
seen, however, if side effects
manifest themselves in the

Cervarix is another vaccine
which was recently sent
to the FDA for approval, but it
only protects against the two
most common low-risk strands
of HPV. A therapeutic vaccine,
which would help limit the
progression of the disease in
an already infected female, is
currently in development.

Many conservative groups,
however, oppose the mandatory
vaccination of girls as
young as nine because they
believe that this might promote
sexual promiscuity.

Early in 2007, Texas
Governor Rick Perry (R)
issued an executive order
would make it mandatory
for all girls in that
state entering
sixth-grade to be vaccinated,
with an opt-out
clause for parents who
objected. The Texas
House of Representatives
approved a bill that would
override the order and
is being considered by the
state’s Senate, according
to Texas Legislature

“I think the vaccine is a
good idea,” freshman Aliza
Moorji said. “I think nine
years old is a little too young
though, even though I know
they’re trying to prevent

The vaccine “can prevent
something,” Dr. Olga Hilas,
Assistant Clinical Professor at
St. John’s, who spoke at the
lecture, said. “You don’t have
to tell a nine year old why
she’s being vaccinated.”

She added, “While I don’t
agree with a mandate, unfortunately,
realistically, more and
more women are dying of cervical
cancer. The disease is
really out of control.

“The government doesn’t
need to mandate [the vaccine],”
she explained, “but we
should be educated.”
Many students, however,
were unaware of the potentially
fatal outcome of becoming
infected with HPV, or that a
vaccine for the disease even

“I’ve never heard of the
vaccine before,” freshman
Ashley Clarke said.
Although students’ knowledge
of HPV and its effects
are somewhat limited, various
media campaigns have recently
made it on to TV and radio
airwaves, making information
accessible to the masses.

In May 2006, “Tell
Someone” and “Make the
Connection” were launched to
increase awareness of cervical
cancer. The most recent media
campaign, entitled “Be One
Less,” began in November
2006, lobbying the U.S. government
to mandate Gardasil
for girls aged nine and above.

Although the issue of vaccination
is controversial, Dr.
Hilas left her audience with
the question, “If you can protect
yourself, then why not?”