One week after the Yale chapter of Colleges Against Cancer started a petition calling on the University to subsidize the HPV vaccine Gardasil, over 1,200 Elis have signed on to the cause.
Currently, neither the standard nor Prescription Plus forms of the Yale Health Plan cover the $360 vaccine, which protects against two virus strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. While YCAC organizers said they are pleased with students’ support for the petition, which calls for the University to totally or partially subsidize the vaccinations, Yale administrators cited the cost, potential health risks and efficacy concerns with Gardasil as reasons they are hesitant to comply with the petition’s requests.
YCAC President Stephanie Smith ’07 and petition drive organizer Molly Clark-Barol ’08 said the petition was initially supposed to take a back seat to raising awareness about the HPV vaccine, as many students were unaware that the treatment was available at University Health Services. YCAC members shifted their focus from raising awareness about the vaccine to campaigning for University coverage after they saw students’ enthusiastic response to the petition, Clark-Barol said.
“I had girls coming up to me saying ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for this!’ or ‘My mom told me to get this!’” she said. “We decided to run with the petitions based on response.”
Student support for vaccine coverage also pushed the Yale College Council to pass a resolution on Sunday night encouraging the University to subsidize Gardasil. YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said that since many Yale students need a subsidy to pay for Gardasil, the YCC wants to see a “concerted effort” from the University to move on the issue.
The next step, according to Clark-Barol, is to engage the University. Clark-Barol and Smith are hopeful that a dialogue with University administrators will bring about some kind of subsidy for the vaccine, although they emphasized they will not enter into the discussion with demands.
“We’re not going to say ‘We want this, go fix it, now,’” Clark-Barol said.
But representatives of YCAC and the YCC said they do have some idea of what they want to accomplish. Smith said she will use other universities as models of possible plans when trying to arrive at a compromise with the administration. Around the Ivy League, only Princeton and Dartmouth offer discounted HPV vaccines to their student bodies. Princeton asks its students to pay 20 percent of the vaccine’s sticker price, and Dartmouth offers it free of charge.
Administrators said the biggest stumbling block for the University is cost. UHS Director Dr. Paul Genecin speculated that the high price of providing Gardasil coverage could reduce the prescription drug coverage students receive through the Yale Health Plan. Genecin also said that students should temper their excitement about the new drug.
“A note of caution should be sounded about the aggressive marketing of this vaccine and the limited amount that we know about it,” he said.
Genecin’s concerns have resonated with a larger audience. Merck, the company that produces the vaccine, announced yesterday that it is abandoning its plan to lobby state legislatures to institute mandatory vaccination of all middle-school-age girls, largely as a result of public outcry. Public health officials cautioned against over-exuberance while parents claimed Merck was preempting their parental authority in lobbying states to force vaccinations.
Genecin also questioned whether students would follow through with the vaccination, which requires patients to visit the same clinic three times over a course of six months.
“We don’t have very good compliance with people coming back for their second or third shot,” he said.
Gardasil protects against four types of HPV, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts, according to a Centers for Disease Control Web site. While the vaccine’s lifespan is not known, ongoing studies are trying to establish whether or not booster vaccinations would be required.