UHS considers funding HPV shot

Yale’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer will begin a petition drive this week to encourage the University to cover the cost of the recently approved vaccine against human papillomavirus.

The vaccine, called Gardasil, was approved by the FDA in June 2006 as the first vaccine that protects against cervical cancer, precancerous lesions and genital warts caused by four types of HPV, the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the U.S. After the federal government recommended that all preteen girls be vaccinated against the virus, dozens of states introduced legislation that would cover the cost of Gardasil, which at around $360 is one of the most expensive vaccines ever made.

Colleges Against Cancer is collecting student signatures calling for a change in the student health plan so that it at least partially pays for the vaccine. Currently, neither the basic nor Prescription Plus forms of the Yale Health Plan covers Gardasil. But University Health Services administrators said it is unlikely the cost of the vaccine will ever be covered under the basic student health plan, and some students expressed concern about the possible cost to the University.

Colleges Against Cancer president Stephanie Smith ’07 said the group wants to ensure that no student who wishes to protect herself against cervical cancer is prevented from doing so because of the financial burden.

“It’s about a community coming together, working together for prevention,” she said. “Whatever the Yale Health Plan can do to ensure that any student who wants to receive the vaccine can do so … is a step in the right direction.”

But UHS administrators said the high cost of Gardasil makes it unlikely the vaccine will ever be covered, at least under the basic Yale Health Plan. Currently, the basic health plan covers flu shots, post-exposure immunizations and vaccines for epidemics, but not any other vaccines.

UHS director Dr. Paul Genecin said the reason the vaccine is currently not covered is because Yale began offering it after the year’s health plan budget was already set.

Genecin said it is possible that the vaccine will be covered next school year for students who opt for Prescription Plus coverage instead of the basic option. Genecin said no changes to the current plan are possible until at least the next plan year, which begins in September 2007.

Because of the high cost of Gardasil, authorizing coverage of the vaccine goes beyond the scope of UHS and is more a matter for the Provost’s Office, Genecin said.

“I don’t have authority to spend on a vaccine at that level of expenditure,” he said. “There is no intention that the University has to provide a very costly service within the basic coverage.”

Deputy Provost Charles Long said the health plan budget is revised each year, and he expects coverage of the vaccine will be discussed in the next round of budget planning.

Smith said that while coverage under the Prescription Plus plan would be an improvement over the current situation, it would still not go far enough in ensuring equal access for all students.

While other Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania also do not provide coverage for Gardasil, Princeton University and Dartmouth College recently announced that their student health plans will provide at least partial coverage for the vaccine. Under Princeton’s plan, students pay 20 percent of the vaccine’s cost, while at Dartmouth the full cost of the vaccine is covered.

While Smith said such measures by other schools indicate a precedent that the University should follow, Genecin said the different schools’ health plans should not be compared to each other.

“Yale doesn’t have the same kind of plan as those schools,” he said. “Those kinds of decisions are made independently. It just depends on the individual school and how that school budgets.”

Some students expressed concern about the cost of the vaccine and the eventual burden that could be placed on students.

Yale College Council Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said although the YCC would be hesitant to support a measure that would increase Yale tuition in order to pay for Gardasil, he thinks the University should explore creative options for funding the coverage.

“If there’s enough student support behind it, it’d be a wise move for the University to at least look into it,” he said.

But Kathryn Baldwin ‘09 said although she supports people being immunized against HPV, she thinks Gardasil is too expensive to be paid for fully by the University.

“I don’t think we should pay for all of it,” she said. “Because it’s not something that’s easily transmissible around the school … I don’t see it as a completely necessary vaccine. It’s good to have but not necessarily vital.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire HPV at some point in their lives.

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