In Fall 2006, Geneseo's Lauderdale Health Center began to administer the newly approved Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. After the vaccine's approval during the beginning of last summer, Family Nurse Practitioner Roxanne Holthaus said, "we talk to as many females students as we can about it."
Holthaus noted there have been about 80 to 100 inquiries about the vaccine, and 20 to 25 series have been started. "We are very strong proponents of it," said Holthaus, who encourages a proactive approach by recommending that women on campus get the vaccine.
Sophomore Jennifer Mann got the vaccine a few weeks ago. "I think it is a good idea. It hurts like tetanus shot and your arm gets a little red," Mann said.
Research thus far reveals little to no side effects from the vaccine. "It is most effective when administered to pre-adolescent girls," explained Director of Health and Counseling Heidi Levine. "No vaccine is FDA approved and on the market without a lot of research," said Holthaus, "and it is potentially a huge benefit for women."
The vaccine protects against four common strands of HPV and helps guard against both the sexually transmitted infection (STI) and cervical cancer. There is no requirement to test a patient for STIs before beginning the vaccine series. Current research is looking into the effectiveness of the vaccine on those already infected with HPV.
The vaccine is administered through a series of three shots within a six-month window. "There are minimum time frames within the shots," Holthaus explained. "There is a lot of room to maneuver." This makes it possible for students to arrange reception of the vaccine around their academic schedule.
Lauderdale does not profit from the vaccine, which costs $136.80 per shot and is often not covered by insurance. "I would absolutely love to get that vaccine. However, it is way too expensive for my liking," said sophomore Chelsey Barton. "I would go to Lauderdale today if I could and get it, but over a $100 for a college student is ridiculous. I have already way too many financial commitments." Some students can arrange better insurance coverage via their home doctor.
"The majority of the students are paying out of pocket," said Holthaus. "If there are other campuses that are not offering [the vaccine] I feel confident the prohibitive factor is the cost," said Levine. She noted, however, that "parents are very supportive and willing" to help their daughters cover the cost of the vaccine even out-of-pocket because of the health benefits.
Despite the positive push for the vaccine, both Holthaus and Levine noted that controversy is often unavoidable, especially considering that HPV is sexually transmitted. Levine noted there would inevitably be some parents opposed to the vaccine because they fear it promotes sexual activity. Studies have shown "educating young people is likely to delay sexual activity," Levine said. "[The controversy] is similar to what happened with the meningitis vaccine. The political flurry wound up being unnecessary," said Holthaus.
In regards to recent media controversy about the HPV vaccine, Holthaus said, "Anytime a vaccine comes out there is a controversy. The political agenda…was a little bit too strong a little bit too soon."
"There is not a compelling interest for the state to mandate the vaccine," explained Levine. "There is a difference with measles and mumps…they are highly contagious." HPV is only contagious via sexual contact.
Becky Heller, a sophomore, said, "My doctor is urging me to get it because regardless of whether or not one is sexually active; nobody can predict their futures and by getting the shot, it is one less stress to worry about."
"I hope it becomes a part of good routine health care," added Levine.