Expensive STI vaccine not covered under STU health plan

Gardasil, the vaccine against HPV, costs $400 for a three-dose treatment, making it one of the priciest vaccines in the world. (Megan Aiken/AQ)

A vaccine protecting against a sexually transmitted infection said to affect 75 per cent of sexually active men and women at least once in their lifetime isn’t covered under St. Thomas University’s health plan.

Human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and is heavily linked to cervical cancer in women.

The National Cancer Institute says it’s been estimated that HPV accounts for over five percent of all new cancer cases worldwide.

The vaccine, Gardasil, costs around $400 for the three-dose treatment, making it one of the most expensive vaccines in the world.

Gardasil helps the immune system to fight the four strands of the virus that are responsible for 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer in Canada.

The University of New Brunswick’s $137 health insurance plan, which costs slightly less than half of STU’s $248.52 plan, offers an 80 per cent direct-deposit return on all vaccinations.

STU spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said health-plan coverage is re-assessed annually based on demand and requests from students.

“The specific items that are covered under the STU health plans are decided on between the students’ union and the university,” he said.

“From our end [the university administration]…we’ve had no requests for it to be covered.”

In 2008, New Brunswick unveiled its HPV vaccination program in public schools.

Girls in Grade 7 now receive the vaccination for free in school.

“Public health experts recommend vaccinating girls between the ages of nine and 13 as the vaccine is most effective when given before the onset of sexual activity,” a government press release from 2008 says.

“It is still recommended to get the vaccine even if girls have become sexually active.”

The vaccines in New Brunswick schools are only for girls, but the disease also affects men. Debate is ongoing in some areas over whether to offer the treatment to boys in publicly funded programs.

While cases of cancer brought on by the infection are significantly lower in men, it is still the most common STI in Canada, and can often cause genital warts, or can go unnoticed and be easily passed on to sexual partners. Some people with HPV may not see any signs indicating they have it.

Within two years, most new female students entering STU will have had the shot.

But this still leaves mature and male students at risk, as well as students from other areas that do not offer publicly funded vaccinations.

Students may voice concerns or suggestions in regards to STUs medical coverage, including the absence of HPV vaccine coverage, to St. Thomas University students’ union vice-president student life Alex Vietinghoff.

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