Some things you should know about the HPV vaccine

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 2:03 a.m.
Each year, about 6.2 million people in the United States contact the human papilloma virus. HPV is passed from person to person during sex, and estimates are that one in every two sexually active people will contract the virus at some point in their lives.
Two strains of the virus, Types 16 and 18, cause approximately 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer, while Types 6 and 11 cause nearly 90 percent of the cases of genital warts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine called Gardasil appears to protect against nearly all HPV infections from those four strains in those who haven't already been exposed to the virus.
Here's a primer on HPV and Gardasil:
  • Who should get the vaccine? The American Cancer Society recommends it for girls ages 11 and 12 years, but Gardasil is marketed to females from 9 to 26. It provides the most complete protection when given before a girl becomes sexually active.
  • Is it required? No. All states allow parents and guardians to opt out of vaccines for medical reasons, and all but Mississippi and West Virginia allow opt-outs for religious reasons.
  • Is it effective? New research released this week indicates that vaccinating 70 percent of girls would cut the incidence of cervical cancer in half. The ACS estimates that 11,150 new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year and that 3,670 women will die from the disease.
  • Is it available through the county health department? Alachua County Health Director Tom Belcuore said Gardasil is available, but the cost has been a consideration for many who call.
    Through the health department, the cost of the vaccine is $170 per dose. Three doses are required.
  • Will private insurers cover the cost? That depends, according to Belcuore. Some cover the vaccine, but at different levels. Consult your health insurance provider for details.
  • What about the Vaccines for Children program? VFC helps families by providing free vaccines to doctors who serve eligible children. They are available at little or no cost to parents. Girls who are eligible must be 11 or 12 years old, on Medicaid, have no insurance or be underinsured.
    For more information, contact your county health department.
    Despite the cost, Belcuore urges parents to consider Gardasil.
    "This is an opportunity to reduce one of the leading causes of cancer in women," Belcuore said.
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