It’s not often that the state of Texas has a more progressive approach to sexual health than Yale. But when it comes to encouraging use of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil, Yale’s policy is lagging embarrassingly behind that of the Lone Star state.
It took Yale University Health Services until October of last year to begin offering the HPV vaccine — six months after it had been approved for distribution — and even then, YUHS was criticized for not effectively publicizing the vaccine’s availability. Now, YUHS is wavering on whether to amend the student health plan to cover the vaccine which, at $360, is one of the most expensive currently on the market.
But it’s also a vaccine that could protect Yale women from HPV, which affects one in four 15-to-24-year-olds and which can cause cervical cancer, the cause of death for over 3,000 women each year. The vaccine protects against two strains of HPV that together cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine is approved for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26 and, because HPV is so widespread, the vaccine is most effective when given to women before they begin to become sexually active.
Already, Texas’ Republican governor has made vaccination mandatory for girls entering the sixth grade, and other states, including Connecticut, are discussing whether to likewise mandate the vaccine for schoolchildren. Meanwhile, in New Haven, YUHS has yet to advertise effectively Gardasil’s availability.
The passive approach to vaccination that the YUHS administration has taken is deplorable. The clock is ticking for women currently at Yale; most are already sexually active and therefore at high risk for contracting the disease, which can be spread even if a condom is used during sex. Eventually, Yale, like Texas, could require that incoming freshmen be immunized, but in the meantime, YUHS should strongly encourage women on campus to protect themselves from this potentially cancer-causing STD.
Beyond launching an aggressive publicity campaign and actually beginning to inform students about the dangers of HPV and the availability of the vaccine, YUHS should begin to cover Gardasil’s $360 cost — at the bare minimum, as part of the coverage available through Yale’s Prescription Plus insurance plan. Already, Princeton covers 80 percent of the cost, while Dartmouth covers it completely. While the News understands that implementing changes to the Yale Health Plan is not possible until the new school year, the News strongly urges the administrators to decide in favor of covering as much of the vaccine’s cost as would be possible given the financial constraints of YUHS and the Provost’s Office.
Subsidizing a portion of the vaccine’s cost will both ensure that all students can afford the shots and will send a strong message to all Yale’s women about how important this vaccine is to their health. If the heavily conservative state of Texas is willing to take a strong stance on this, then there’s no reason why Yale, home of Peer Health Educators and Sex Week, should lag behind.