General human papillomavirus, more commonly referred to as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are more than 40 types of HPV that infect the genital areas of both men and women. Although there are cases where HPV can infect the mouth and throat, most people are unaware that they are affected with the virus and are most likely infecting their sexual partners (CDC). It is disconcerting that when individuals do seek sexual health exams, “less than one-third of US physicians consistently screen these patients for the full range of sexually transmitted diseases, leaving many patients unaware of their infection status with regard to either HPV or HSV” (Nack, 489). HPV is one of the few STIs that there has been a vaccine developed for and that has underwent a widespread advertising campaign to promote its benefits. I personally received the series of three Gardasil shots when I was in high school and know that the majority of my friends did so as well.
The appearance of trends amongst those who are carrying STIs is frequently linked to gender and race (Nack, 493). I would argue, though, that the two most important factors in determining if one would get an STI vaccine is one’s socioeconomic status and knowledge of the disease and vaccine. The fact that these factors usually do not coincide with one another is where the issue arises. Gardasil is currently marketed at $120 per single dose. Three doses are required over a six-month period, making the final cost for the HPV vaccine $360. On top of the cost for the shot, many doctors charge for the office time when the vaccine is being given. Most large insurance companies cover the Gardasil vaccine, but most only do so for females that are ages 9 to 26, the age group in which the vaccine is FDA approved. Gardasil is now part of the Vaccines for Children Program, a federal program that provides free vaccines to children under the age of 18, whose health care does not cover the shots (http://www.gardasil.com). Therefore, getting vaccinated is a huge chunk out of many people’s pockets that cannot afford insurance. Although the Vaccines for Children Program in place, one must be aware that it even exists to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.
It all stems down the amount of sexual education being taught in our education program. We see here at Emory that this department was the first to be cut, so it is obvious that our University does not think that this is a priority for college students. As I said in my last post, the 1980s was a time of heightened teen pregnancies, STIs, and the emergence of AIDS as a serious issue. There are articles in the Wheel that suggest that the reason these things were occurring in such a prevalent manner was that there was a lack of sexual education at the time. In 1988, Jerry Falwell, an American evangelical fundamentalist Southern televangelist, attacked public school in America by saying that sex education promoted teen pregnancy and we would live in a more moral land if sex education as forbidden in schools. An Op-Ed piece featured in the 1988 Wheel calls Falwell naïve and ignorant and goes on to say that, “people who think they can be sexually active without taking precautions to prevent pregnancy or disease are the contribution to the high illegitimacy rate in this country” (“To Prevent” 8).
It is interesting that over twenty years later, we still see the backlash from the socially conservative members of our society to drugs such as Gardasil. When the drug was originally marketed it was advertised as a vaccine to protect against several strains of sexually transmitted HPV. In actuality, this is what the drug really is. The Family Research Council equated Gardasil and its advertising campaign to “a license for young people to have premarital sex” (Nack, 487). Both socially conservative groups and the CDC advised Merck, the maker of Gardasil, to advertise the product as a preventative to cervical cancer. In reality, though, Gardasil protects against four HPV strands that are associated with only 70% of cervical cancers. Therefore, this drug is not a true preventative for cervical cancer but is really a drug to prevent the spread of the STI HPV. I think that it is extremely telling that the CDC told Merck to market the drug as a cancer rather than an STI preventative (Nack, 487). This again stems back to the lack of sexual education in this country and how many are oblivious to the fact that they are too at risk for STIs and that they are much more common than one would think. When one hears the word cancer, though, they would act in a heartbeat to be able to protect themselves against it and feel as if it is a much more relevant issue to their lives.
“GARDASIL.” Gardasil: Human Papillomavirus Quadrivalent (Types 6, 11, 16, and 18) Vaccine, Recombinant]. Merck & Co. Inc., 2011. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <http://www.gardasil.com/>.
Nack, Adina. “Damaged Goods: Micing Morality with Medicine.” Speaking of Sexuality: Interdisciplinary Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 487-502.
“To Prevent Teenage Pregnancy, Sex Education In Schools Needed.” The Emory Wheel 11 October, 1988, 8.