Approximately 20 millionAmericans, the majority ofwhom are women, are currentlyinfected with HPV, thehuman papillomavirus. In fact,HPV is one of the more commonlycontracted sexuallytransmitted diseases amongcollege-aged females, and thenumbers keep growing. Everyyear, more than six millionAmericans will becomeinfected, but the disease ismuch more dangerous forwomen, since it increases theirchances of developing cervicalcancer, according to theCenters for Disease Controland Prevention.
On Thursday, April 12, alecture entitled “Gardasil: ToVaccinate or Not toVaccinate?” was held byLambda Kappa Sigma at St.John’s University, regardingHPV, its risk factors, potentialeffects, and moral implicationsof getting vaccinated.There are more than 100types of the virus, but strands16 and 18 are the two thatpose the highest-risk. Theyare responsible for about 70percent of cases of cervicalcancer in women, whilestrands 6 and 11 are the twomost common low-riskstrands, causing genital warts.
Statistics from the UnitedState Department of Healthand Human Services in 2004show that younger women aremore likely to contract HPV,but various other factors couldalso affect a woman’s chances,including an early age of sexualintercourse, an increasingnumber of sexual partners, aswell as never beingscreened for the disease,immunosuppression, tobaccouse, long-term use oforal contraceptives, coinfection,parity, and poornutrition.
Screening for the diseaseincludes pap smearsand HPV DNA tests.In June 2006, Gardasilwas the first FDAapprovedvaccine for HPVto be released. The vaccineprotects against the fourmost common strands ofthe disease, thus reducing awoman’s risk of developingcervical cancer or pre-cancerousand abnormal lesions.
Gardasil is recommendedfor females between the agesof 13-26, but girls as youngas nine may also be vaccinated.It is generally recommendedby the Centers forDisease Control andPrevention for females to bevaccinated before the onset ofsexual activity. Over 11,000females aged 9-26 havealready been vaccinated.
Gardasil is administered ina series of three injections,spanning six months, and usuallycosts $120 per dose,although children under theage of 19 who are uninsuredmay possibly be provided withthe vaccine for free. In clinicaltrials of the vaccine, it hasbeen 100% effective in preventingpre-cancers caused bythe targeted HPV strands.
Current studies indicate thatthe vaccine is effective for atleast five years. It is yet to beseen, however, if side effectsmanifest themselves in thefuture.
Cervarix is another vaccinewhich was recently sentto the FDA for approval, but itonly protects against the twomost common low-risk strandsof HPV. A therapeutic vaccine,which would help limit theprogression of the disease inan already infected female, iscurrently in development.
Many conservative groups,however, oppose the mandatoryvaccination of girls asyoung as nine because theybelieve that this might promotesexual promiscuity.
Early in 2007, TexasGovernor Rick Perry (R)issued an executive orderthatwould make it mandatoryfor all girls in thatstate enteringsixth-grade to be vaccinated,with an opt-outclause for parents whoobjected. The TexasHouse of Representativesapproved a bill that wouldoverride the order andis being considered by thestate’s Senate, accordingto Texas LegislatureOnline.
“I think the vaccine is agood idea,” freshman AlizaMoorji said. “I think nineyears old is a little too youngthough, even though I knowthey’re trying to preventsomething.”
The vaccine “can preventsomething,” Dr. Olga Hilas,Assistant Clinical Professor atSt. John’s, who spoke at thelecture, said. “You don’t haveto tell a nine year old whyshe’s being vaccinated.”
She added, “While I don’tagree with a mandate, unfortunately,realistically, more andmore women are dying of cervicalcancer. The disease isreally out of control.
“The government doesn’tneed to mandate [the vaccine],”she explained, “but weshould be educated.”Many students, however,were unaware of the potentiallyfatal outcome of becominginfected with HPV, or that avaccine for the disease evenexisted.
“I’ve never heard of thevaccine before,” freshmanAshley Clarke said.Although students’ knowledgeof HPV and its effectsare somewhat limited, variousmedia campaigns have recentlymade it on to TV and radioairwaves, making informationaccessible to the masses.
In May 2006, “TellSomeone” and “Make theConnection” were launched toincrease awareness of cervicalcancer. The most recent mediacampaign, entitled “Be OneLess,” began in November2006, lobbying the U.S. governmentto mandate Gardasilfor girls aged nine and above.
Although the issue of vaccinationis controversial, Dr.Hilas left her audience withthe question, “If you can protectyourself, then why not?”