HPV vaccine bill proposed in Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH (U-WIRE) – Several states have launched legislation regarding the vaccine touted to prevent a sexually transmitted disease and cervical cancer, and Pennsylvania is one of them.

Unlike the mandate issued by executive order in Texas, requiring that school-aged children receive the newly approved human papillomavirus vaccine, the Pennsylvania bill would require insurance companies to cover the cost of the vaccine.

“Similar to many other vaccines, this vaccine is (an) important healthcare issue and should be covered by insurance policies,” said Rep. Tony DeLuca, the Democrat who initiated the bill.

“Thirty-two states and D.C., including Pennsylvania, have introduced bills regarding the vaccine or its education to the public,” Sen. Jim Ferlo said.

Ferlo said the vaccination is a “common-sense preventative procedure” and that vaccines in general “are a cost-effective way of managing our health care dollar.”

Not all Pennsylvania lawmakers agree. Rep. Jerry Stern believes the proposed bill would drive up insurance costs and that the newly approved vaccine needs further review.

The bill must be passed by both the Pennsylvania House and Senate and then signed by the governor to become law, DeLuca confirmed.

The University of Pittsburgh Student Health Services stocks the HPV vaccine, which is available at the university’s student health center for $136 per dose, Dr. Elizabeth Wettick, the center’s senior physician, said.

The vaccine is given as three injections over a six-month period, according to Gardasil’s Web site.

Currently, the Allegheny (Pa.) County Health Department does not have the vaccine. Upon availability, it will cost $130 per dose, Guillermo Cole, spokesperson for the department, said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Thomas Petrone does not support the Texan decision to make the vaccine mandatory for school-age girls.

“It should be a parent’s decision,” he said.

However, Dr. Martha Terry, senior research associate at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, disagrees.

“Polio vaccines are mandatory, smallpox vaccines are mandatory. These were equally controversial in the beginning, but now we accept them as normal,” Terry said.

“If we make it mandatory for everyone, (including) boys, when they choose to have sex, they can do it without infecting each other with these particular viruses,” she added.

Unless the proposed bill requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of the vaccination is made a law, those interested in receiving it must pay out of pocket.

While the cost is a factor for some, Anna Broverman, a Pitt freshman, said she and her parents believe the cancer-preventing vaccine is worth the money.

Despite the benefits, some Pitt students consider the cost a major deterrent.

“(As) a college kid, I can’t afford it,” graduate student Leah DeThomas said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 80 percent of women will have had genital HPV by age 50, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Web site. The infection commonly clears on its own, but can sometimes cause cell abnormalities and cervical cancer, the Web site stated.

The controversy continues as to whether the vaccine will promote sexual behavior.

“People who are going to have sex will have it anyway – those who want to wait will wait,” Terry said. “Studies show that making condoms readily available does not promote sexual activity.”

The vaccine protects women from HPV Types 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and HPV Types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts cases, according to the Gardasil Web site.

Gardasil, which was approved by the FDA in June of 2006, is the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions and four types of genital warts caused by HPV, according to a press statement.

The vaccine is neither a treatment for present infections nor a protection against other strains of HPV, according to the vaccine company’s Web site. Gardasil does not claim to “fully protect everyone (or) prevent all types of cervical cancer (and advises patients) to continue regular cervical cancer screenings.”

Some less commonly known risk factors include cigarette smoking and early age at onset of sexual activity, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Web site.

The Pennsylvania bill would amend the Insurance Company Act of 1921 to require most insurance providers to cover the cost of the HPV vaccine, Ferlo said.

“I am confident that (DeLuca) has done his homework on the proposal. I would support the current proposal,” Rep. Harry Readshaw said.

None of the lawmakers asked have been approached by members of the medical community or lobbyists regarding this issue.

Many women polled in the Pitt community believe the proposed bill is a good idea.

Pitt student Maranda Snyder plans to receive the vaccine and believes in the importance of preventative measures.

“You do what you can to keep yourself healthy,” she added.