Demand for Gardasil — the vaccine against the human papillomavirus — has increased this semester following a Yale University Health Services decision to insure the immunization under the Yale Health Plan.
YUHS Director Paul Genecin said there was only modest interest in Gardasil last year — before Prescription Plus began subsidizing it — because students had to either pay for the entire three-shot regiment, which cost upwards of $300, or have it covered by their families’ insurance plans.
But after the decision — prompted in part by vocal calls for a cheaper, more readily accessible HPV vaccine — students are turning out in greater numbers to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus.
In addition to increased student interest in being vaccinated, Genecin said YUHS has seen a greater demand for information about the virus.
HPV is widely known to be the major cause of cervical cancer in women. It is transmitted through vaginal and anal sex as well as skin-to-skin contact and about 50 percent of all sexually-active individuals are exposed to one of the 100 plus strains of the virus at some time in their lives, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Students covered under Prescription Plus can now receive the vaccine for a $100 deductible and a 20 percent copayment — which would amount to a total cost of about $100 for students who have met the deductible, Genecin said.
Still, not all Yalies are taking advantage of the lower-cost vaccine for a variety of reasons, including time constraints and lack of knowledge.
Esen Sefik, a research assistant at the Yale School of Medicine, said since the vaccine requires three doses over a six-month period, it is difficult for her to schedule her YUHS visits around work and travel plans, even though she knows that an irregular regimen could detract from the vaccine’s benefits.
But Genecin said students should be aware that they do not have to receive all three shots in the same facility.
Physicians are used to the logistical problems often attached to multiple-shot regimens, such as that of the Hepatitis B vaccine, he said, and Yale can administer any number of the three shots, allowing students to get the rest at home or elsewhere if necessary.
But Camila Garcia ’10, who has not yet received the vaccine, said more than the scheduling hassle, she is concerned that students do not know enough about the virus itself.
“I plan to get [the HPV vaccine, but] I do not know much about the virus itself,” Garcia said. “I think the student body has been exposed to this ground-breaking vaccine, but has not been informed about the ways to be protected against the virus.”
An infected Yale College sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, said YUHS has effective systems in place for taking care of students once they have HPV. The treatments she received for her cervical warts were successful, she said.
But she said YUHS does a poor job of informing and protecting Yalies beforehand. She said students — especially males — run the risk of contracting HPV and never realizing it, while at the same time continuing to spread the virus to others.
“The major concern at Yale should be informing guys,” she said. “They are carriers of HPV and the effects of the virus usually do not exhibit themselves. There currently is no test designed to find HPV in men. Most of the time, they spread the virus without knowing.”
Muratcan Bilgincan ’07 said he does not know much about HPV or the Gardasil vaccine now, but said he would be interested in obtaining more information and would take advantage of YUHS services available to him in the future.
Studies are currently being performed on the effects of Gardasil on males, Genecin said. If Gardasil proves to be protective against HPV in males, then it may be licensed and recommended by the FDA. Genecin said he expects there will be off-label vaccinations for men in the near future.
Gardasil, which was approved by the FDA in June 2006, is effective against four strains of HPV — 16 and 18, which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer, and 6 and 11, which cause about 90 percent of genital warts.
The vaccine is recommended for females ages 9 to 26 and is considered most useful if administered prior to first sexual contact, though women who have already been exposed to HPV are still encouraged to be immunized, since the vaccine could protect them from contracting another strain.