Gov. Patrick Proposes Free HPV Vaccines

Massachusetts governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 announced last night that his proposed 2008 fiscal budget will provide the option of free human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations for girls aged 9 to 18, as part of a $72 million increase in state public health funding.

The vaccine, known as Gardasil, helps to prevent the spread of the HPV virus, which infects about 6.2 million people in the U.S. each year.

The virus is transmitted through genital contact and can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although the proposed vaccination program does not apply to the majority of undergraduates, it is being hailed as a positive development in student health.

“I’m hoping this is a step forward in advancing the power of prevention,” said Dr. Howard K. Koh, an Associate Dean at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Dr. David S. Rosenthal ’59, director of University Health Services (UHS), said yesterday that Gardasil was a significant vaccine.

“We are obviously very strongly helping the college students promote it,” said Rosenthal. “We’ve been monitoring this since the very beginning.”

Because Patrick’s plan will have an upper age limit of 18 years, only a certain percentage of students will be able to take advantage of the free inoculations.

While the basic UHS undergraduate health plan does not cover the cost of the vaccination, it is available for $462. According to Rosenthal, UHS prescribes 30 to 40 doses each week.

But while the high price tag could discourage some students, others said that the money would be well worth the vaccine’s benefits.

“No matter how much money it costs, you should do whatever you can to get it,” Molly C. Tarrant ’10 said.

And Dr. Eric Rubin, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the school of public health, said yesterday that the vaccine was a crucial tool in the fight against the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

“I don’t know that Harvard students’ sexual behavior will be wildly influenced by the presence of a vaccine,” Rubin said. “But it will make whatever behavior they’re engaging in safer.”