Student Groups Push HPV Education

Women’s Center, Seneca, 13 others lead campaign

Two months after Harvard University Health Services (UHS) started offering human papillomavirus vaccine, several campus groups have mounted a drive to increase awareness of it—and make sure cost does not keep students from getting it.

The Harvard College Women’s Center (HCWC), the Seneca, and 13 other student organizations are leading the Harvard HPV Vaccine Awareness Campaign to inform women of the benefits of vaccination, and to gauge interest in urging UHS to make the vaccine, Gardasil, more affordable.

“This is definitely a resource for women that will hopefully have a very large effect on women’s health,” said Katie E. Koopman ’08, chair of the Seneca’s Women’s Outreach Committee.

Koopman said she and the fellow organizers of the campaign understand why women may or may not wish to go through with the vaccination, but that they should make informed decisions.

Koopman said the campaign will have been a success if it had “encouraged women to investigate the vaccine and see if it was right for them.”

As for a potential UHS subsidy of the vaccine, Koopman said part of the effort would be to see who wants one.

UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 wrote in an e-mail that he agrees it’s important for female students to know about the vaccine, but that he hadn’t heard of the push for a subsidy.

“For the college or HUHS to provide a subsidy would require a planned substantial increase in the health fee to cover this new cost,” Rosenthal wrote.

There are over 120 different strains of HPV, but the four that Gardasil fends off are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts infections. According to the website of Merck & Co., Inc.—Gardasil’s manufacturer—testing found the vaccine to be 100 percent effective in preventing high-grade cervical pre-cancers and non-invasive cervical cancers associated with HPV type 16 and 18 infections.

But the cost of the injection series, each priced at $154 by UHS and not covered by Harvard’s student health insurance plan, may prove prohibitive for some.

“Students are concerned about the cost of the vaccine, and this campaign is a way to help them to voice that concern responsibly and effectively,” wrote HCWS director Susan B. Marine in an e-mail.

“It’s really important for students to have access to information about new health-related issues that directly impact them, and in this case, it’s a health problem that students can take direct action to prevent!” Marine wrote.

Ellen C. Quigley ’07, a campaign organizer, said the timing of its launch was meant to allow the students it reaches to complete the six-month, three-injection series during the academic year.

According to Quigley, the campaign has enlisted postering, dining hall tabling, House e-mail lists, and displays in UHS and the Women’s Center.

“Chiefly, this is an informational campaign—getting people to learn about what the options are,” she said. “Cervical cancer kills thousands of women every year, and this is such an easy way of preventing that.”

Quigley believes it is important for women to be “in front of the wave” in protecting themselves. “This is the type of thing that I think will be routine for women beyond our generation,” Quigley said.

“Personally, I think it would be a very good thing if the university or UHS would do something to subsidize the cost because it is very expensive,” said Andrea Tsurumi ’07, another campaign organizer.

“We’re doing our best to cooperate with them because I think we do have common goals.”

Tsurumi said she hopes UHS will consider “subsiziding it at least for people on financial aid or without secondary insurance.”

—Staff writer Nicholas A. Ciani can be reached at nciani@fas.harvard.edu.