The Student Health Center’s recent decision to eliminate funding for the human papillomavirus vaccine, Gardasil, has sparked an outcry among some students and led to the disapproval of some faculty members, including the creator of the vaccine himself.

Due to high costs, the center stopped purchasing Gardasil – which is only suitable for females – two weeks ago, according to James Marsh, director of the Student Health Center. Under the new policy, the center will prescribe and administer the vaccine if students purchase it from an outside pharmacy.

Richard Schlegel, academic chair and professor in the pathology department at the Georgetown University Medical Center, was among the team of researchers who created Gardasil, which was approved in 2006 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Schlegel and other researchers began working on the development of the vaccine before 1990.

“It is a bright spot to see something you work on for so long come to fruition, being used medically. And Georgetown’s name getting credit for having a primary role in developing the vaccine,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel expressed disappointment in the decreased availability of the vaccine on campus.

“If all students should have access, we should be facilitating it at Georgetown. That’s for sure. I think that anything Georgetown can do to get a student vaccinated is important,” he said. “I e-mailed the dean of the medical school to see if anything can be done to make it simpler and easier for students to get the vaccination. He’s looking into it, but I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

The high price of the vaccine – $150 per injection – has been a significant financial burden for the health center, but Schlegel said he did not know how pharmaceutical companies settled on the price. Three shots are administered over a span of six months for a complete vaccine sequence.

According to Marsh, the Student Health Center has not seen a decrease in the amount of students receiving the vaccine.

“Judging by the response and how busy we are at the clinic, it seems many young women are coming in for Gardasil prescriptions and then returning to get the shots,” he said.

“I know this is very inconvenient for people, and I wish it could be different, but this is the best alternative we have at this point, short of discontinuing the vaccine altogether.”

The Health Center’s policy shift has led to dissatisfaction among many students and even prompted two to apply for a grant that is intended to reestablish funding for the vaccine.

Juliana MacPherson (COL ’08) and Gregory Baltz (SFS ’10) are applying for a Reimagine Georgetown grant that would provide funding for HPV vaccines at the Health Center. According to acPherson, although the details have not yet been finalized, the maximum grant award of $10,000 would pay for approximately 66 shots at the health center. Baltz said that any insurance money coming into the health center would then cover the cost of more shots.

“It would eliminate any risk of harm being done to the vaccine from the time you get it from the pharmacy until it is administered,” said MacPherson.

After a preliminary round, first-round winners of Reimagine Georgetown will present their proposals to the boards of the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, The Corp and THE HOYA as well as university administrators in early January.

“Ideally, the university has an opportunity to prevent women on the campus from cervical cancer,” said Baltz. “Hopefully, it’ll just demonstrate motivation on campus and the demand for the vaccine.”

MacPherson said that she believes this grant can be the beginning of much greater change.

“We realize it can only go so far. We want the grant to be a statement to Georgetown that it is important to the campus and encourage them to change the policy,” she said.

Student organizations including Women in Politics and H*yas for Choice have begun to speak up in order to raise awareness and increase the availability of the vaccine.

“The HPV vaccine is something we were very proud to have on campus. It’s disappointing that the university isn’t investing in their own discovery,” said Morgan Shephard (COL ’09), a representative of Women in Politics.

Women in Politics is a support and networking system on campus for women in the field of politics. The group sponsors different events that promote women’s issues and women’s health. In the coming year, Women in Politics will work with the Georgetown University Women’s Center on raising HPV awareness, although no definite plans for the future are set, according to Shephard.

“We think that the vaccine is something that should be brought back to campus,” said Shephard.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.