New Vaccine Can Save Lives but the Cost May Leave Some at Risk
Have you seen the ads for Gardasil? It's the vaccine recently approved by the FDA to help protect against the virus that can cause cervical cancer. The virus is called HPV. A year ago-- you may not have heard of it-- but now there's a campaign underway to make people aware of the dangers of HPV -- a sexually transmitted virus and about a vaccine that could prevent it. But the vaccine is new-- it's expensive-- and it's not covered by all insurance. Texas quickly jumped on the band wagon and made it mandatory for all middle school aged girls. However, efforts to make it mandatory in South Carolina and Georgia recently failed.
Grace Diaz-Tootle works at the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport and we caught up with her on a day when her daughter was joining her at work for "Take Your Child To Work Day". It used to be called "Take Your Daughter To Work Day"-- an observance started in 1993 by a foundation dedicated to promoting awareness of women's issues and a way to expose teenage girls to career options. But in the year 2007 moms like Grace-- a single mother of one boy and three girls-- are now focused on an exposure that could harm their daughters-- exposure to the sexually transmitted HPV.
"It does lay dormant for years so what you do now can come back to haunt you 10 to 15 years from now, which is what happens to women in cervical cancer", explains pharmacist, John Leffler.
HPV is becoming a big problem according to Savannah OB/GYN, Dr. Kimberly Crute. "We're seeing 6 to 10 million cases of HPV yearly in the United States. So she was pleased when the Gardasil vaccine became available. But Dr. Crute is no longer offering the shot in her office. The shots cost any where from 120 to 150 dollars each-- you need 3-- and Dr. Crute says insurance wasn't living up to it's share of the bargain. "Hopefully with insurance changes and governmental intervention we will have it back at the physician's office at some point."
Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah says right now it's only one company making it and as more potentially get involved then the cost should come down.
For now, Dr. Crute gives her patients a prescription-- although not all pharmacies are carrying the vaccine either. The Prescription Shop, now known as Quick RX on Waters and 65th is one that does. You can take it back to your doctor's office or you can get the shot there. "I would say a third maybe 40 percent of pharmacy insurance covers it", says John Leffler.
Grace's children are on Peachcare, which would not pay for the vaccine. She says she'd deal with that if she had trust in the product and the long term effect. "We don't know if it's save. We won't know until another generation from now."
"What I hope Georgia will do is begin by offering it and educating the public, families, parents about why this vaccine is important and to begin offering it and perhaps in the future to consider mandating it," says Dr. Diane Weems, Director of the Chatham County Health Department.
In fact, both South Carolina and Georgia legislatures looked at mandating the vaccine just like Texas, the only state so far that has done so. "Georgia was considering doing the same thing, but implementing it in 2009 giving it a little more time for people to get ready for it," says Senator Johnson.
The bill was passed over this session but it may come up again next time around. By then lawmakers and parents may have more information about a vaccine that is so potentially beneficial.
"There are probably people that fought small pox vaccines as well," says Senator Johnson.
Grace felt the same way. "You wonder, did they all say this when they came out with the small pox vaccine too."
And like that with that vaccine-- many are already convinced. Like pharmacist John Leffler. "It's been tested and quite widely for the last five years. Europe has had it on the market for a while now." And Ob/GYN's like Dr. Crute. "This is a first of its kind-- this is a huge breakthrough for women's health."
Others, like Grace, are still cautious. "If it works and if it's safe it's not a dilemma.
The shots are also available at the Chatham County Health Department.
Studies are currently underway to see if the vaccine is effective in preventing the virus in males which would prevent the spread of HPV.