Preventing HPV

South Side health center can provide vaccine at little to no cost

Waiting at the bus stop on the corner of South Salina Street and McKinley Avenue, Aries Williams plays the big sister role and chastises her little brother after he chases his football into the middle of a busy street.

Aries, a 16-year-old junior, is headed home from her second day of school to help her mother with her two little sisters. She is willing to talk about an issue that makes some teenagers cringe — sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chlamydia and the human papillomavirus, or HPV, are the two most common STDs. HPV is one STD Aries has not heard of.
HPV affects males and females, but it’s more threatening to females. Intercourse is not necessary. Genital contact of any kind with an infected partner can spread the disease.
There are 100 different types of HPV. The more serious types can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

The seriousness of the disease surprised Aries. “I didn’t know about this disease or that a girl could get cancer from it. I’ve heard of cervical cancer, but I didn’t know that’s how people got it. None of my friends have had HPV, but a handful of them have had an STD,” she said.

HPV is preventable with the use of the vaccine Gardasil. “I have heard of that,” Aries said. “I see the ‘One Less’ commercials all the time.”

Gardasil is recommended for females ages 9-26 and must be administered in three phases. “I think it would be helpful to girls my age,” she said.

In February 2009, New York became one of 19 states to enact legislation that requires immunization against HPV to be administered to children in the same manner and on the same time schedule as other immunizations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Aries does not agree with that. “I have two younger sisters, and I think making them get a shot to prevent STDs encourages sex,” she said. “I think (the decision) should be left up to the mother and that girl. I don’t want anybody telling me what I have to get.”

Syracuse Community Health Center Vice President of Communications Sheri Dozier-Owens supports the requirement. The South Salina branch handles around 90 HPV cases per year. “Most of our cases are teenagers. It’s down from previous years, but this doesn’t include cases that go undiagnosed. Nearly all our patients are from the South Side community,” she said.

The CDC reports Gardasil costs $120 per dose. The vaccine requires a total of three doses, making the total cost $360. “We offer the vaccine free of charge or on a sliding scale for those who cannot pay the entire fee. This is based on monthly income, so it varies on a case-by-case basis,” Dozier-Owens said.

With school recently back in session, the clinic has seen an increase in parents requesting the shot. “A lot of them talk about having seen the Gardasil commercial. They bring their children in to get the shot when immunization forms need to be updated or when their daughter is in need of a physical to participate in school activities,” Dozier-Owens said.

Walking home from school and bundled in her winter coat on an unusually cold day in early September, 13-year-old eighth-grader Nylah Rutledge agreed that Gardasil should be mandatory. “I think it’s a good thing. Even though I’m in junior high, girls my age do have sex. Some of them even get pregnant, and sometimes you hear rumors about girls getting STDs,” she said.

Nylah has seen the catchy “One Less” Gardasil commercials, but she was not familiar with the details.

“I didn’t know you could get all those diseases and so many people died from HPV until now, so I guess if (government officials) are trying to make it mandatory, they must be doing it for a reason,” Nylah said.

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