Cervical cancer vaccine offered at KU

Health center one of first in area to provide Gardasil shots

Months after gaining FDA approval, the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine is available at Kansas University’s Watkins Health Center.

“As soon as it came out, we were anxious to get going,” said Carolyn Johnson, head of gynecology at Watkins. “I have people daily asking me about it. I’ve given out lots of information sheets.”

About 10 women in recent weeks have received the three-shot vaccine, Gardasil. The FDA in June licensed Gardasil for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26.

“It’s going to be a good thing for the students,” KU graduate student Angela Badger said. “It’s going to help them think about their future health – when you’re young, it’s not the first thing on your mind.”

Watkins, which participated in an early trial of the vaccine, is giving the shots free to those who participated in the study but didn’t receive the vaccine. The vaccine also is available to students and members of the public.

It is not available through the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Spokeswoman Sheryl Tirol-Goodwin said the department is waiting for guidance from the state.

“It’s just really early at this point,” she said.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the agency hopes to make Gardasil available to patients at some point this fall.

It was unclear Monday how many local physicians are offering the vaccine.

The vaccine prevents infection by four of the dozens of strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Without insurance, the vaccine costs about $130 per injection, with three injections, Johnson said. She said some insurers are covering a portion of the vaccine’s cost for policyholders.

But Johnson said the price isn’t too high weighed against the costs of dealing with HPV.

“Looking at it purely as an economic issue, chances are it’ll pay for itself,” she said.

Ideally, the vaccine would be given before a female becomes sexually active, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Johnson said she has had inquiries from parents about vaccinating their children.

Johnson said she knows some parents may find it difficult to vaccinate their daughters for a sexually transmitted disease, but there is precedence in Hepatitis B.

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to get wide acceptance for the HPV vaccine,” she said.

Badger, a peer health educator coordinator at KU, said she hopes the topic is added to sexual health presentations given to college students.

It’s too early to know how the vaccine will be discussed in Lawrence public school classrooms.

Lynda Allen, the Lawrence district’s director of math and science, said she had yet to talk with teachers about it, but that she saw the subject as one that might come up when discussing news and health issues.

“We wouldn’t discourage open discussion of it (in the classroom),” she said.

The topic has yet to arise in Vickie McCauley’s health classes at West Junior High.

But “I think it’s important that the kids are informed,” she said.