Yale is remiss in not offering HPV vaccine

The good people at Trojan sent the News a box full of condoms to announce Yale’s top ranking in the sexual health study they sponsored. While the ranking seems more than a little suspicious, especially since big-name schools were explicitly targeted and the study just happened to begin around the time of Yale’s annual Sex Week, the study does indeed suggest that this university stands at the forefront of sexual education and safety. But despite high marks in condom availability and STD testing, there remains at least one key sexual health tool that Yale sorely lacks: the HPV vaccine Gardasil.

The treatment for human papillomavirus has been on the market all summer. Harvard and other universities have already scooped up enough to handle their own demand. Yet the response from Yale has, to this point, been limited by circular logic: Supplies for the drug are limited, they say, because demand is low; demand is low because the supply is too limited to motivate an education campaign; the current value of an education campaign is low, one could argue, because the drug is in short supply here anyway.

But in the face of this circle, a line needs to be drawn. Granted, the vaccine is still new and expensive, and Yale University Health Services has a lot of immunizations to administer. But the Centers for Disease Control estimated that HPV will infect half of us at some point in our lives, the disease is widely recognized as a primary factor leading to cervical cancer and the new vaccine is only effective in subjects who have not yet been infected. With this in mind, a treatment for HPV hardly seems less important than state-mandated inoculations for measles or meningitis.

Overwhelming student demand should not be required to justify investment in such a drug, but the administration’s argument that movement on the issue has been limited by student ignorance of the vaccine is ridiculous. More than one peer health educator has fielded questions about the vaccine’s availability this fall; the woefully small list of students currently waiting for the vaccine is more likely due to the lack of a definitive answer than in student apathy about the risks of cervical cancer.

And if such an education campaign is truly necessary, that road is hardly a difficult one. A single campuswide e-mail can accomplish much of that goal, but the onus to inform students about the HPV vaccine need not fall on YUHS alone. The department is no stranger to surveys on hospital effectiveness and education programs administered by the Yale College Council, and in addition to peer health educators, Yale is home to a vast array of undergraduate organizations who would seem more than happy to aid in such an education process.

YUHS administrators have been vague when asked about dates when the vaccine will become available on campus, but the CDC’s findings are clear: 6.2 million Americans will be infected with HPV in the next year. Considering that the vaccine only works when delivered in three doses over a period of six months, movement on this issue needs to happen soon if students are to receive effective treatment — and if Yale is to retain that top spot the next time Trojan checks up on us.

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