Shot That Helps Prevent Cancer Available At NU

Laura Schocker

By Laura SchockerThe Daily Northwestern

A vaccine that can help prevent cervical cancer is now available at Searle Student Health Service, and appointments are now being scheduled.

The shot is recommended for females between the ages of 9 and 26 – ideally 11 and 12 – and protects against four of the most common types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cancer and genital warts.

“Nobody wants genital warts and nobody wants cervical cancer,” said Dr. Donald Misch, executive director of Health Services.

HPV will infect more than half of sexually active men and women at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site. The HPV shot, called Gardasil, is expected to eliminate 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

“The ideal time to get the shot is before a woman becomes sexually active,” Misch said. “But even if you are, you should still get it.”

The three-shot series, spaced two months and four months apart, costs a total of $450 at Searle.

“Northwestern health insurance does not cover the vaccine,” Misch said. “We try to keep our prices lower than the surrounding community, and you don’t have to pay up front for all three shots.”

But Misch said the vaccine is worth the cost.

“What’s the cost of cervical cancer or genital warts, physically and emotionally?” Misch said. “No one should die of cervical cancer.”

The new vaccine does not replace yearly gynecological exams or Pap smears, he said, explaining that the vaccine is not perfect and only protects against certain strands of the virus.

While the Food and Drug Administration is still working on gaining approval for women older than 26, Misch said Searle will still administer the shot to these women as long as they understand that it is being done “off label.”

Misch said he suspects the FDA will also eventually seek approval for men.

“There is virtually no downside and very few side effects to the vaccine,” Misch said.

Many women on NU’s campus said they will get the vaccination now that it is available on campus.

Claire Bergeron, a Weinberg senior, said she worries that the cost will discourage many from getting the shot.

“I think getting the shot is a great idea, but it’s a very prohibitive cost,” Bergeron said. “It’s something that should be covered under insurance.”

SESP senior Kate Pacher said the $450 price tag will make her consider other options for obtaining the vaccine.

“I will probably not get it on campus if my insurance company at home covers it,” Pacher said. “But I definitely will get it. Anything I can do to reduce my risk of getting any type of cancer is worth it to me.”

Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]