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The Truth About Gardasil

I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only person in I.V. who dreads doctors’ visits when I know there’s a needle in the offing. Chances are that unless you’re a drug addict, a doctor, or an aficionado of especially violent acupuncture, you’re not a big fan of being stuck with sharp, pointy objects. And yet, when faced with deciding between potential sickness or a preventative shot, the mature, adult thing to do is suck it up, roll up your sleeve, and let the nurse start searching for veins.

As a kid, it used to take up to four people to hold me down when I got shots. Not to mention the rolls and rolls of stickers my doctor used to bribe me with me when I threatened to bolt. My pediatrician would actually prepare for my visits by placing her office assistants and nurses on notice that they would be required to wrestle with my prepubescent self at least once before the day was done. By the time I was three, wriggling, writhing, kicking, crying, scratching, and screaming were techniques I knew and had perfected when it came to avoiding an unpleasant experience, and the same seemed to hold true for shots. My poor pediatrician-and my even more embattled mother-went through what can only be termed hell to make sure that I was protected from measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, polio, and plenty of other ailments-and to this day I’m still trying to live it down.

So, it was with great gravitas in her voice that my brave doctor recently told me she wanted to speak with me about a series of shots she thought I needed. It was my annual physical and gynecological exam, and we had already commenced with the most uncomfortable portion of the visit-the one that any woman who has placed her feet in cold stirrups and endured fifteen minutes of far-from-pleasurable poking “down there” can empathize with-when my doctor told me she had some information about a new vaccine she wanted to share.

It turns out she was talking about Gardasil-a relatively new vaccine that can prevent Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and even protect against some types of cervical cancer. I had seen the commercials that have been bombarding the airwaves since the FDA first approved the vaccine last year, and had some awareness of the shot from the combination of its aggressive ad campaign and the usual sex-centric conversations going on around campus. Suffice it to say, I was curious. After much prompting and pushing from my doctor, I decided to look a little further into the issue.

Now, I am not one to extol the virtues of the pharmaceutical industry as it currently exists. Anyone who combines the regular reading of the newspaper with a solid liberal arts education is generally going to have a sense of distrust for corporate America in general and the particularly leech-like qualities of the pharmaceutical industry in particular. So, it was with a great deal of skepticism that I started looking into Gardasil. A shot that could keep me from getting cancer? Surely that couldn’t be as good as it sounds.

According to the incredibly helpful UCSB SexInfo website, UCSB Student Health’s very own Director of the Gynecology and Colposcopy Clinic-the aptly-named Dr. Cox-helped consult me on Gardasil. The vaccine protects against four of the most common strains of HPV, two of which cause cervical cancer and two of which cause genital warts. Apparently, there is a one-in-four chance for women to contract HPV with every new sexual partner-meaning the risk of getting HPV goes up quite a bit every time you get lucky. And if you ask me, just hoping that you’re lucky enough to avoid the disease when you have sex with someone new is pushing the whole luck thing a little too far. Especially since according to the Centers for Disease Control, the effectiveness of condom use in preventing HPV is still unclear. According to my research, it makes a lot of sense to get the vaccine.

So, it was with great determination that I recently went to Student Health, ready to face down my fear of needles, suck up my urge to run, and got the first of three required doses of Gardasil injected into my arm. Then, the doctor tapped into a whole other fear of mine-the fear of financial ruin. Apparently, very few insurance companies are currently covering the cost of the vaccine, and my normally decent insurance provider was no exception. It turns out that the entire $360 cost of receiving the shot was up to me. Fortunately, I have incredibly understanding and forward-thinking parents who did not think twice about telling me they would deviate from their usual “you’re old enough to pay your own bills” line of thinking and help me out with this important health-related cost.

Asking them was not the most comfortable thing I’ve ever done, but I figured that since they’re probably aware that the pack of birth control pills I’ve been religiously refilling since I was sixteen is a fairly good indicator that I do indeed have sex, there was no sense in being squeamish where my future health was concerned. I can’t even begin to imagine what people in similar financial situations-where bills are the black hole that almost always devour the entirety of my paltry paycheck-whose parents aren’t as generous or open-minded as my own, must go through to pay off the price of these shots. If anyone has any suggestions as to how this situation can be remedied, please post them in the comments section. I’d love to compile something for a future column about ways to get Gardasil without paying such a high price.

Either way, I did have my first official injection last Tuesday. It didn’t hurt as badly as I expected it to, and-thanks to a nurse who didn’t laugh when I told her I needed to not see the needle at all in order to keep myself from bolting-it was a fairly easy experience. My arm was pretty sore for about two days afterwards, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t function. And the soreness mostly served as a reminder that I was taking charge of my health and doing something important to help protect my future self from some serious potential health problems. I encourage every woman who reads this to go talk to the folks at Student Health about the vaccine-even if it’s just to inquire as to how the shot might be obtained for less money at another health care provider. As for me, I have two more rounds of shot-getting to go-one in June and another in October.

Sure, I hate needles. And yes, asking my parents for cash is an incredibly embarrassing situation to endure at this stage in my life. But you know what? I’m worth it. Plus, I bet taking the initiative to go out and get a shot on my own is worth at least a few stickers at my old pediatrician’s office.

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