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