Vaccine for Girls Raises Thorny Issues
November 9, 2006
While many parents are seeking out Gardasil, a new vaccine that protects against the STD human papillomavirus (HPV), others are worried about its safety or are uncomfortable at the thought of their children eventually becoming sexually active.
Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June for females ages 9-26. The vaccine targets the four HPV strains responsible for most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Experts are recommending that girls receive Gardasil before becoming sexually active so as to save them from a malignancy the American Cancer Society says strikes about 10,000 US women each year and kills around 3,700.
Gardasil faces hurdles, though, not the least of which is its cost. A full three-shot series costs $400-$500. Though many insurance plans are covering Gardasil, others have not yet decided; have not determined how much they will reimburse; or have not announced when they will begin reimbursement. Edward Rothstein, a pediatrician in Sellersville, Pa., said many parents are waiting to see if their insurance covers the cost of Gardasil. "Girls who should be getting it aren't getting it because parents are justifiably concerned about cost," he said.
For poor uninsured children, Merck announced recently it had reached an agreement with federal officials to make Gardasil available at a discounted price to state programs for the indigent.
There is also an issue of safety. Gardasil was proven effective for up to five years, but some parents plan to wait it out to be sure. "There just isn't enough information on it yet to make a call about whether it's safe. I'm not rushing out to do this," said Gina Catizone, an Illinois mother.
Another fear among parents and pediatricians is that Gardasil could give girls a false sense of security. "If they think they are protected against one [STD], they may think they're protected against all [STDs]," said Sacramento pediatrician Ravinder Khaira. "That's just the way some kids think."
11.07.2006; Rob Stein