Last year the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, the first human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, for girls and women ages 9 to 26.
And thanks to more than $11 million in grants, Missouri can provide the vaccine to qualified females at no charge.
The vaccine would normally cost $360 for the three-dose regimen. However, in January 2007, the Missouri Foundation for Health set aside $11 million to provide the HPV vaccine for 30,000 girls and women this year in Missouri. The grant allows health-care providers to vaccinate women who are not covered by adequate insurance or who do not qualify for Missouri's free Vaccines For Children program.
"It's been a very successful program as far as we are concerned," said Karen Evan, a registered nurse at the Scott County Health Department. "I would say we've vaccinated over 500 women since starting the program, and our shots are free no matter what."
Other medical facilities offering the vaccine reported giving large numbers of the shot as well.
"We've had over 1,000 women participate in the program so far and I expect many more will follow," said Angel Prather, director of the Women's Center for Health and Wellness, part of FMAA Family Planning, in Cape Girardeau.
In clinical trials, the vaccine proved to be more than 99 percent effective in preventing two types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer (types 16 and 18) and two types of HPV that cause 90 percent of genital warts (types 6 and 11).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, widespread vaccination combined with regular Pap screening can dramatically reduce cervical cancer deaths, as well as pain and suffering associated with treatment. The CDC also recommends administration of the vaccine to girls ages 11 to 13 because it is most effective before a girl becomes sexually active.
But there has been some controversy concerning parents and the vaccine, Evan said.
"People think the vaccine is in some way sex related, but the point is to get to the girls before they start having sex," she said. "Because of the four different strains of the virus, we want to prevent HPV before they even get a chance to have sexual contact and possibly have it spread to them in that manner."
There are 139 Missouri health centers and clinics, including 29 in Southeast Missouri, participating in this program. To find the center nearest you, visit the Missouri HPV Coalition Web site at www.mohpv.org.