HPV vaccine not so popular yet
By Leslie Bridgers
A staff reporter for the American Journal in Westbrook, she is a graduate of Bowdoin College.
If you could do something now to prevent you or your daughter from getting cancer in the future, would you? I think it would be hard for most people to say no to this question, but there are still plenty of young women out there who have yet to get the vaccine that could potentially eradicate cervical cancer the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006, protects against the four most common strains of HPV that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer.
According to the state’s chief health officer, Dr. Dora Mills, director of the Maine Bureau of Health, about 15 Maine women die each year from cervical cancer. She said that number has dropped dramatically from 40 years ago, when it was the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, because more frequent screenings have led doctors to catch the cancer in its early stages. However, the vaccine, Mills said, could eliminate cervical cancer deaths in the state entirely.
“It provides a lot of promise,” said Mills, mother of a 6-year-old daughter who will be vaccinated in three years. Currently, the vaccine is recommended for females between 9 and 26 years old, but ideally around the age of 11 or 12, before their first sexual contact. It’s administered in three shots within a 6-month period, and runs at about $125 per dose.
According to Skeek Frazee, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Maine locations of the family-planning group have administered around 250 injections to date a number, she said, that is much lower than in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Most insurance plans cover the vaccine, Frazee said. But Planned Parenthood can’t assist women without insurance in paying for the vaccine, like they do for other services, because of the high cost to Planned Parenthood. The cost of the vaccine may be a barrier for some, but others have expressed opposition based on the nature of acquiring the virus from sexual contact. Frazee said when the vaccine was first introduced, some people believed it would be a “green light for excessive sexual activity.”
Now, however, she said, that concern has lessened, comparing its “ludicrousness” to saying that seat belts promote reckless driving.
Frazee said the vaccine is gaining momentum as a routine vaccine, and she has seen it recommended by colleges for incoming students.
Though Mills said she is not mandating the vaccine for Maine women yet, it will be something to consider in the future. “It’s not that I’m closed to the idea,” she said, “but I think it’s premature.” There’s no doubt that the vaccine itself and people’s thoughts about it will change in coming years. Frazee said there’s talk of offering it to men as well, because throat cancer is also associated with HPV.
For now, however, it seems the goal should be to incorporate this vaccine into the group of shots that most people don’t think twice about getting, right alongside mumps and measles. And we can only hope there will be similarly simple ways of preventing other cancers in the future.