New vaccine is highly recommended

Sarah Cockrell

The little girls in the commercial spell out O-N-E L-E-S-S repeatedly. The message is clear: They each want to be one less person with HPV.

Gardasil, developed by Merck & Co., is currently the only vaccine that helps prevent the spread of human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted infection.

Researchers have been studying the effects of the vaccine for about five years, said Sue Hirt, director of patient services at Planned Parenthood.

Gardasil has been available at Kent State since last fall. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections at Kent State, said Lori Christopher, nurse practitioner at DeWeese Health Center.

“I highly recommend Gardasil,” Christopher said.

The vaccine is intended for females ages 9 to 26. Sixteen injections have been given at the DeWeese Health Center since Fall 2006.

Gardasil protects against four types of HPV. Types 6, 11, 16 and 18 are the four that contribute to cervical cancer, pre-cancerous changes and genital warts.

Christopher said, studies are showing the vaccine to be 100 percent effective against those four types. However, the studies are ongoing.

Christopher said the vaccine is given in three separate doses.

“There’s an initial injection, a second dose two months after the initial injection and a third dose six months after the initial injection,” she said.

The process is very similar to the hepatitis dose schedule.

According to Hirt, it may be possible to get HPV between injections. Full protection occurs after all three doses have been given.

Currently, Gardasil is the only HPV vaccine available. Each injection costs about $150 on campus. Some insurance companies are currently covering the costs of Gardasil.

The price of the vaccine is expected to go down once other companies come up with their own versions.

Research is still being done on Gardasil. But so far, there have been no cases of serious side effects caused by the vaccine, Christopher said. She also said that the only side effects have been a little redness or minor swelling at the injection site.

Hirt mentioned that allergic reactions are possible in women with allergies to certain medications.

Gardasil is not a source of treatment for HPV. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent the spread of four specific types of HPV. It also will not protect against other types of HPV.

Currently, it is unknown how long the vaccine will be effective. According to Hirt, it will last at least five years, because that is how long researchers have been studying it.

Both Christopher and Hirt said that there may be a need for a booster shot later, but right now researchers cannot tell. Gardasil is expected to last a lifetime.

The HPV vaccine is not a substitute for a yearly Pap smear.

Women should be getting a yearly Pap exam at the onset of sexual intercourse or at age 21, Christopher said.

“If you are already sexually active, Gardasil is still recommended,” Christopher said. “Even if you have one type (of HPV), get it to prevent the other types.”

Contact on-campus medicine reporter Sarah Cockrell at [email protected].