Health / Opinion

Paying for protection – the HPV vaccine

By Shannon Clarke

Having been shepherded to doctor’s appointments by my mother for most of my life, had appointments made for me and most medical matters handled without any effort on my part,  my decision to get the HPV vaccine came as a shock even to myself. I was going through a phase of medical paranoia.

The idea that “[insert infectious disease here] will never happen to me” was suddenly shattered and the warning posters and advice from doctors suddenly seemed more potent.

I made an appointment, discussed it with my family doctor and he wrote a prescription. Illegible instructions in hand I went to the pharmacy and was told to come back in two days for the vaccine – and with $124.

As far as vaccinations go, HPV is the new kid. Approved for administration in Canada in 2006, it is the only known vaccine against human papillomavirus, an STI linked to cervical cancer.

A recent article in the Toronto Star named human papillomavirus one of the most common viruses plaguing Canada and the third most common infectious disease in Ontario. According to the Ontario Burden of Infectious Disease study, HPV causes 254 deaths annually and is responsible for over 1,000 new cases of cancer every year. With a vaccination available (Gardisal and Cervaix are both approved by Health Canada), it seems many young women are going unimmunized against the disease, despite it being completely preventable.

Is it misinformation? Highly unlikely. I was reminded on campus bulletins, ads in washroom stalls, and during commercial breaks. Though I knew about HPV for many years, I opted against being immunized until only a month ago. Cost? Possibly. The process involves three shots over six months so, while you are protected against the disease, it’ll cost you over $300.

Money well spent – if you can afford it.

The government of Ontario has offered a free vaccination program for Grade 8 girls since 2007. It is not mandatory but requires parental consent and plenty of parents have declined the service, arguing that administering a vaccination for an STI to Grade 8 girls promotes, at the least, premature sexual activity and, at the most, promiscuity. The vaccine is approved for women ages 9-26, but is most effective before girls become sexually active.

So, if parents want their daughters to wait until the “appropriate” time to be vaccinated, they’ll have to cough up the nearly $400 to do so. And by then, many young women are taking their sexual health into their own hands. Birth control, pap smears, the HPV vaccine – not exactly things you want your parents involved in, especially if you’ve grown up in a household where sex was never discussed, let alone prepared for.

The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Deb Matthews, has named the reduction of prescription and generic drug costs as one of her priorities since 2009. Whether or not the HPV vaccine falls into this category is unclear. Inquiries about the cost of the vaccine got no response.

Immunization against diseases like diphtheria, polio, tetanus and influenza are no brainers. Sexual health on the other hand doesn’t get nearly the same attention. For now, if you want protection against HPV, be prepared to pay for it.

Image via: ABC news

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4 thoughts on “Paying for protection – the HPV vaccine

  1. Taking control of one’s health and making intelligent and informed decisions is both important and difficult in our society. Whether or not to go through with the HPV vaccine is a choice women have the right to make. Although I agree HPV is a huge issue, it has been made out to be a ‘woman’s problem.’ Protecting yourself is important, but I do not like being sought out by pharmaceuticals. I like the question raised here, that is, if the vaccine is so crucial, why isn’t it subsidized? We should all be unafraid to take our health in our hands. But the question still stands. To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate.

  2. Fortunately cervical caencr vaccine is now available to avoid this scenario for future women. Gardisil and Cervarix are now both available to prevent 80% of HPV transfers that can lead to cervical caencr. All women and even young men should be vaccinated. Gardisil has been approved for use in males and females. Before vaccination was available 70% of all women had this virus by age 30.

  3. I agree that they have not tested this vncaice enough, and even though I had cervical pre-cancer myself, I don’t think I’d want my 10 yr old daughter getting one just yet. My older daughter, (who is in the USAF), has already gotten one…because it was recommended by the AF doctor. She had the vncaice after my grandson, not sure if it will affect her fertility in the future.First of all though, calling it a “cervical cancer vncaice” is a misnomer; it is really an HPV vncaice. Boys get HPV too, and pass it on to girls, who may or may not get cervical cancer, but the majority of women who get it…also have HPV. So, from that standpoint, if they make it mandatory for girls…it should be for boys too, to stop the spread of the virus.Also, I am part of a study that is being done to see if some people are genetically predisposed to cervical cancer, so I hope they don’t jump the gun here and make it mandatory for anyone just yet.

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