Event focuses on HPV vaccine, test


Women and parents should become educated about the benefits and risks of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) test and vaccine, so they can make informed choices for themselves and their daughters. That was the overarching message from a talk last week that was sponsored by local Jewish women’s groups.

St. Louis Chapter Hadassah, along with Nishmah: The St. Louis Louis Jewish Women’s Project and the National Council for Jewish Women-St. Louis Section, sponsored a talk about the HPV test and vaccine.


Melissa Mendelson, who has a master’s degree in public health, and works for Hadassah’s National Department of Women’s Health and Advocacy, outlined information about the HPV test and vaccine, and about the link between HPV and cervical cancer. State Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, spoke about legislation he proposed to provide funding for the uninsured to allow access to the vaccine.

Mendelson told the audience of about 60 people at the Federation Building on Aug. 28 that HPV is a very common group of viruses, most of which are passed through the body, causing no long-term effect.

She said 80 percent of women, by the time they are 50, will have had HPV at some point. There are more than 100 types of HPV, more than 30 of which are sexually transmitted, she said, and roughly 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV.

“The American Cancer Society predicts that this year, in 2007, there is going to be an estimated 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer in the U.S. So approximately 3,670 women will die from cervical cancer in the U.S.,” she said.

High-risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts, she said.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which was approved by the FDA in 2006, prevents four types of HPV, two of which commonly cause cervical cancer, and the other two commonly cause genital warts. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the four types of HPV that the vaccine helps protect against are responsible for approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

“It’s the first vaccine that prevents 70 percent of all cervical cancers, and 90 percent of genital warts. It also prevents abnormal and pre-cancerous cervical lesions, genital lesions, vulvar lesions and genital warts,” Mendelson said.

She said that since the vaccine is relatively new, many people have questions about it.

“People are always asking me, ‘Can I get HPV if I get this vaccine, or can my daughter get HPV from the vaccine?’ The answer is no,” she said. “There is no infectious material in this vaccine. You can’t catch the virus from getting the vaccine.”

Mendelson said that the vaccine, which is administered by injection in a three-dose regimen over a six-month period, has been approved by the FDA for use in women ages 9-26.

She said that many parents have questions about the safety of the drug, including questions about side effects.

“The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site,” she said. “However, like all vaccines, there are side effects, but the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (of the CDC) says that the benefits outweigh the risk.”

“More than 5 million doses have been distributed and what we have seen so far within the year the vaccine has been out , there have been 13 reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis, and there have been seven deaths that have been reported. All of these cases are being investigated and it has not been proven that these are in direct correlation to immunization of the vaccine,” Mendelson said.

She said that the statistics are not unusual for any drug or vaccine and noted that the FDA and CDC have made no changes to their existing recommendations.

Mendelson stressed that even after taking the HPV vaccine, women age 21 or older (or within three years of having sexual intercourse) should still receive regular Pap tests. She said women 30 and older should also ask for an HPV test along with the Pap test.

Rep. Page, who is also a physician whose specialty is pain management, said he has seen patients affected by cervical cancer.

“It really is a devastating disease,” he said.

“This vaccine is one of the greatest public health developments of the past decade, ” Page said. “We have a vaccine that will prevent a specific type of cancer.”

Page said he has been working in the Missouri House of Representatives, to pass legislation that will provide parents with access to information about the HPV vaccine and funding for uninsured Missourians seeking the vaccine.

The three-part vaccine costs an average of $360, according to the CDC.

“Regardless of your position on affordable health care, most people would agree that for a vaccine that helps prevent a communicable disease or something as devastating as cancer, we should look to provide access to this particular health care option,” Page said.

Page proposed legislation that called for Missouri’s Department of Education to send parents or guardians of sixth grade students information about the vaccine, and to help pay for the vaccine for children without health insurance coverage. The bill passed committee, but was stalled on the House floor.

Page then tagged the bill on to a Medicaid reform bill, but the HPV bill was voted down, losing by four votes.

He said he hopes to bring the issue up for a vote again this year. “It’s very difficult to pass controversial legislation in an election year, so we’ll see where we go with it. We’ll keep it out there and keep pushing for more ways to help improve the health of our young women.”

Joan Denison, executive director of St. Louis Chapter Hadassah, said her hope in holding the event was to make sure women are well informed about decisions they will face.

“What we really wanted to do was just to present the information so that people could go away and utilize it to make their own decisions and take the next steps in making their decisions, whether that’s doing more reading, talking to their physicians, speaking with family members,” she said.

“We hoped to create greater awareness of what the vaccine is, how it works, what are the implications of it, what are the implications of the disease of cervical cancer and not just the vaccine, but for the HPV test,” she said. “Because what we ascertained from speaking with people in the community was that people have been hearing about the HPV vaccine, but didn’t really know there was a specific HPV test that could be asked for as well.”

For more information about the HPV vaccine and test, visit www.hadassah.org/cervicalcancer or www.cdc.org.