Dick's House provides HPV vaccines to women

by Christine Huggins | 10/6/06 5:00am

Dick's House now offers female students the vaccine for human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. Thirty three percent of Dartmouth women have HPV, according to a study conducted by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center five years ago.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for women ages nine through 26 this July. Dartmouth has been connected to the study of HPV and the subsequent vaccine for the past 15 years, and many Dartmouth women have participated in trial tests of the vaccine.

Elizabeth Hirsh, manager of the Women's Health Program at Dartmouth, is working to help educate more women about HPV and the vaccine. She said she plans to get the word out on campus by offering informational sessions about HPV and the vaccine to 10 women at a time.

"The vaccine is for types six, 11, 16 and 18 of HPV, which are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers and over 90 percent of vaginal and vulvar cancers," Hirsh said. "We're recommending it for women before any sexual contact, especially since HPV is transmitted skin to skin."

Though enthusiastic about the release of the vaccine, Hirsh stressed its limitations.

"Women should realize the vaccine only protects against the four types of HPV, and they still need to get annual pap smears," Hirsh said.

Hirsh said one of the controversies surrounding the recently approved vaccine is whether its link to sexual contact would promote promiscuity.

She dismisses the controversy and compares the HPV vaccine to that of Hepatitis B, saying that "hopefully someday the vaccine won't be so tied into sexuality."

Caroline Barker '07 has already received her first of three doses of the vaccine.

"I'd been hearing a lot about it, and I asked my doctor about it and my mom, who's a doctor, and they said the virus is not active so you can't get the virus from the vaccine."

Each of the vaccine's three shots costs $125 and the Dartmouth Student Group Health Plan does not currently cover its cost or that of any other vaccine.