HPV vaccine to be provided to all students

Trinity College Health Service and Trinity College Cancer Society have struck a deal with the pharmaceutical company Merck to provide their Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, commonly referred to as the cervical cancer jab, at a discounted cost to female members of College.

Lucy Whiston, Secretary of the Cancer Society, said that the programme’s main target will be female students, preferably in their first year of college. The reason given is because the vaccine, Gardasil, only works to guard against HPV when administered before a woman has had contact with the strains of HPV. According to Merck, over three-quarters of new cases of genital HPV occur in the age group of 15-24 year olds. Students signing up for the vaccine will be asked for their sexual history, Ms. Whiston said, though it was unclear whether one would be discouraged from taking the vaccine, based solely on their level of sexual experience.

HPV causes over 99 per cent of cervical cancer, as well as genital warts. Gardasil protects against four common strains of the virus: types 6, 11, 16 and 18; two of which are responsible for over 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer, while the other two cause over 90 per cent of cases of genital warts. Most men and women will be infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetime, and most are infected in early adulthood. HPV is contracted through contact with the genital area of an infected person; most cases have no symptoms and are fought off by the body, making it easily transmissible without the knowledge of either person. But the virus can cause abnormal cell growth, which can become cervical cancer.

Plans to provide the vaccine free of charge to all 12-year-old school girls in Ireland by September 2010 fell by the wayside during the economic crisis last year, and at present, the Department of Health and Children have no plans to reinstate the scheme. Recently, a pressure campaign to provide the vaccine through the Government has been headed by Fine Gael deputy Denis Naughten along with Michelle Fitzpatrick. Ms. Fitzpatrick, a 42-year-old mother of five, four of them girls, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and will be undergoing surgery to remove her reproductive and excretory organs in early November. She made her ordeal public through the Herald in a bid, it reported, to put public pressure on Mary Harney to “give cervical cancer vaccines to her young daughters”.

Despite its earlier initiative, Minister for Children, Barry Andrews said that the national cervical screening programme should take precedence over the vaccine, saying cervical screening “carries the significant advantage of delivering earlier benefits than vaccination”. More than 180 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Ireland each year. The programme, called CervicalCheck, provides a free smear test, which can detect the treatable pre-cancerous cells that lead to cervical cancer, and is available to all Irish women between the ages of 25 and 60. Gardasil, however, is licensed only for women and girls between the ages of 9 and 25, and since it does not protect against all strains of HPV, regular cervical screening is still necessary. With early detection, pre-cancerous cells can be treated and closely monitored, before cervical cancer develops.

Gardasil normally costs €675, excluding doctor’s fees. At the Health Centre, the vaccine will be offered for €390 and, as usual, no doctor’s fees will be charged. Ms. Whiston added that there is no limit to how many women can sign up for the vaccination, which is delivered through three injections over six months, beginning in late November. A publicity campaign is due to start in College this week to promote the vaccination.

The Cancer Society are calling on Trinity men to ditch their razors for the month of “Movember” and “don a tache for cash”, all in aid of Prostate Cancer Awareness. Sign up will take place from the Cancer Society’s stand in the Arts Block from Monday November 2nd – Friday November 6th. Trinity News Editor David Molloy and TN2 Editor Michael Armstrong will be growing their finest this month, and can be supported at movember.com.