Yale University Health Services has begun to administer the Human Papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil, nearly half a year after national review committees approved it for distribution.
YUHS Director Paul Genecin said staff started offering the vaccine to women who request it on Oct. 30. The treatment, administered to women in order to help protect against cervical cancer and other diseases that arise as a consequence of HPV, has been recommended by several medical associations, including the Federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The vaccine has been in use at universities across the country for several months, and some students at Yale criticizes YUHS for not effectively publicizing the benefits and availability of the vaccine.
The vaccination requires three doses over the course of six months, with the second dose administered two months after the first and the third dose administered four months after the second.
Though Genecin said he considers the vaccine to be an important medical advance, he worries that recipients may inaccurately regard it as a cure-all. While the vaccine helps to prevent cervical cancer, genital lesions and genital warts, it does not completely eliminate the risk of contracting these diseases.
“One of the real concerns is that women will feel they’re no longer at risk for cervical cancer, and that’s not the case,” he said. “But the recommendation is [women] get vaccinated.”
Some female Yale students were glad to hear that the vaccine is available on campus, but said they had not been properly notified about the opportunity to get vaccinated by YUHS.
“I was only told about the flu vaccine,” Kim Lau ’09 said. “[But] I would definitely be interested.”
Maggie Doherty ’07, a former board member of the Yale Women’s Center, said there has not been sufficient publicity about the availability of the vaccine. The Women’s Center is about to launch an awareness campaign to make sure students know about the treatment and its uses, she said.
Doherty said she has friends who were upset after they went to YUHS at the beginning of the school year looking for the vaccine, only to be told that it was not available. In September, YUHS Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology David Roth and Medical Director Michael Rigsby told the News that YUHS planned on offering the vaccine but that the process was slowed due to questions about how to implement the new program and ensure a steady supply. Because the vaccine must be administered in three doses following a rigid timeline, Genecin said, the supply of vaccine had to remain constant so that those who began the vaccine course would be able to finish it.
Axel Schmidt ’09, a Peer Health Educator working for the Student Health Education department of YUHS, said members of his organization are not yet disseminating information about the vaccine, but they will likely become involved in the future.
While Genecin said the vaccine is available to any member of the Yale community who wants it, he recommends that those seeking the treatment choose the medical facility where they feel the most comfortable.
“Primarily, students are going to want to come in and talk about it with their clinicians,” he said. “They may just decide to get the vaccine here, [but] whatever arrangement they make, they should get vaccinated on schedule.”
In a 2005 report, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that, at a minimum, 50 percent of sexually active people catch HPV during their lifetime, although many do not show symptoms. Gardasil protects against four different types of the virus and may be useful for those who already have HPV, since most people are not infected with each of the four strands covered by the vaccine.