Free vaccine will be available by the end of May in Spokane and across Washington state to immunize girls against a common cause of cervical cancer.
Local health care providers have ordered 2,300 doses of Gardasil – enough to treat 766 girls with a three-shot series – as part of Washington’s first wave of funding for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine.
That’s just a fraction of the 16,000 doses of the vaccine ordered statewide as the first $1 million in state funding dedicated to the project became available May 1, said Michele Perrin, immunization program health promotion manager for the state Department of Health.
“There’s a lot of interest from providers,” Perrin said Thursday. “It’s potentially going to be flying out the door.”
Washington is among a few states nationwide to pay for the vaccine that prevents HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Certain strains of HPV have been linked to up to 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
Up to now, the series of shots has cost about $360, a fee not covered by many insurance plans. But Washington lawmakers agreed to spend $26 million now and over the next two years to add vaccines for HPV and rotavirus to the list of childhood immunizations.
That’s enough for 143,000 doses, or enough to treat about 47,000 girls a year, said Tim Church, a health department spokesman. Although federal officials recommend the vaccine for girls and young women ages 9 to 26, the free treatment is available only through age 18.
Parents will still have to pay for office visits to get the drugs, Church said.
In New Hampshire, the first state to offer free HPV vaccine, demand quickly outstripped supply, forcing providers to create waiting lists.
Texas made the shots mandatory for young girls earlier this year, sparking controversy about requiring immunization against a sexually transmitted infection. Objections to Gardasil have included concerns that it was not adequately tested before being approved by federal Food and Drug Administration.
Some parents and others have expressed concern that immunizing girls against a sexually acquired disease encourages promiscuity.
More Spokane providers are expected to order the vaccine in coming weeks, Perrin said.
One of the first to do so is Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, which has not previously offered immunization through the state Vaccines for Children program, according to Dr. Kim Thorburn, the agency’s medical director.
“We’ll be getting started with eligible patients 18 and under,” she said Thursday.
People interested in obtaining the vaccine should contact their caregivers or the Spokane Regional Health District.
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