Clinics getting vaccine against cervical cancer

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Missouri agency is giving $11 million to provide the human papillomavirus vaccine to 30,000 girls and women in 84 counties across the state.

Locally, Cross Trails Medical Center ordered 300 doses of the vaccine likely to be administered at its three area clinics beginning next week. Cross Trails clinics are in Cape Girardeau, Marble Hill and Advance.

The East Missouri Action Agency will also order doses through the program, but representatives were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Cross Trails will offer the vaccine free to all its patients up to age 26, said CEO Vicki Smith. Smith said the vaccine is covered by few insurers.

HPV is a virus that causes papillomas or small warts. There are about 100 types of HPV, but the most dangerous and painful are contracted through sexual contact. Research indicates the virus dramatically increases a woman's likelihood of developing cervical cancer.

The grant was awarded last week by the Missouri Foundation for Health a not-for-profit created in 2000 after Blue Cross/Blue Shield became a for-profit company.

"This is the first time a vaccine that clearly prevents a condition that leads to a form of cancer is available," said Dr. James R. Kimmey, president and CEO of the foundation.

Kimmey said the grant in combination with the federal Vaccinations for Children program, expected to begin offering the vaccine in late January or early February at the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center on Linden Street, will give Missouri the most comprehensive HPV vaccination program of any state.

The vaccine, Gardasil, was developed by Merck & Co. and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June. It is a three-dose vaccine given over the course of six months and typically costs $360.

More than half of all sexually active people contract HPV at some point during their lives. Gardasil is believed to prevent the strains of HPV accounting for 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts, according to information gathered by the foundation.

"When you stop and think about this, it is an amazing breakthrough. I mean finally we have a treatment for cervical cancer that is something that is just cutting-edge brand new," said Roberta Renicker, a registered nurse with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

In Missouri, 7.9 out of every 100,000 women will develop cervical cancer and about 28 percent of those cases will be fatal.

"If we can save a hundred or two hundred women out of the 30,000 from going through the suffering of cervical cancer, then it will be a good investment," Kimmey said.

But even with the grant, vaccinations won't be available for everyone. The federally funded Vaccinations for Children only provides vaccines to those 18 years and younger. Qualified applicants must be Medicaid eligible and have no insurance.

That means when the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center receives doses next month, some without insurance won't have access to the vaccine.

"We had to go through this with chickenpox, meningitis and now with Gardasil," said public health center director Charlotte Craig. "It's not a local public health decision. It's decided by the bigwigs."

Craig called these restrictions "almost embarrassing" and encouraged people to talk to their legislators about widening the availability of Gardasil.

But some do not want to see the vaccine administered to girls as young as 9, saying it endorses promiscuous sexual activity.

Craig and Kimmey disagreed.

"I can sit toe to toe with a parent who says, 'You're condoning sexual activity,' because we're not doing that at all. A young woman may wait until she is married to have sexual intercourse and then she'll still be protected," Craig said.

"Vaccines prevent disease, and family values prevent promiscuity," Kimmey said.

Last month, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announced the state would distribute 8,000 educational packets on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine.

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