What’s the T with HPV?
Have you been vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts and most forms of anal and cervical cancer? Probably not according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimates only 35% of women ages 13 -17 have received all three vaccine doses needed for protection against HPV. About 8% of men those ages received at least one dose of the vaccine.
You may think that if so few teens get the HPV vaccine it’s because they don’t need it. Wrong! According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the US. At least 50% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is spread through skin to skin contact and oral, anal, and vaginal sex. It can be passed between straight AND same-sex partners. Knowing these facts is important because gay and bisexual guys may consider HPV a “woman’s disease” that they can’t get from oral or anal sex and some lesbians may mistakenly think that HPV is only a concern for men and straight women.
Fortunately, most people clear HPV out of their bodies within 2 years and never develop health problems (CDC, 2012). When HPV is not cleared out of your system it can cause genital warts and cancer. Most HPV-related cancers, like cervical and anal cancer, do not cause symptoms until they are advanced and harder to treat (CDC, 2012). That is why it’s important to have regular check-ups and get vaccinated.
There are two HPV vaccines: Cervarix and Gardasil. Gardasil protects against most cervical cancers and most anal cancers in men and women. HPV vaccinations are recommended for 11 – 26 year old males and females (CDC, 2012).
It costs around $400 for the three doses that fully vaccinate against HPV. If you do not have insurance to cover the cost, don’t worry! There are other ways to get the vaccine for free or at a low cost.
If you’re 18 and under…
Vaccines for Children (VFC) covers vaccines for people 18 and under who are one of the following:
- Underinsured or without insurance that covers Gardasil
- American Indian or Alaska Native
To find doctors and clinics that are part of the VFC program, contact your city or state VFC coordinator. Contact information is posted at:
If you’re older than 18…
The pharmaceutical company Merck has an assistance program that covers vaccine costs.
To qualify, you must:
- Be 19 or older
- Live in the U.S.
- Be uninsured
- Have an income lower than $44,680
If you don’t meet all of these requirements, Merck often makes exceptions on a case by case basis for special circumstances. To apply for the Merck assistance program, complete the 1st page of the following application and give it to your doctor.
If you are ineligible for both programs, you may be able to get free or cheap vaccinations at Planned Parenthood, Public Health Clinics, or your college’s medical clinic.
CDC. National and state vaccination coverage among adolescents aged 13 through 17 years—United States, 2011. MMWR 2012; 61(34): 671-677.
CDC HPV homepage: http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/index.html (Last updated March 2012)