You probably remember the minor culture war scuffles that accompanied Merck's vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes a range of conditions from genital warts to cervical cancer.
New data out today show that Gardasil protects against a broader spectrum of HPV strains than initially thought, and is really good news for girls and young women the world over. It's thought that tens of thousands of cases of cervical cancer can be prevented annually through vaccination, which is just a terrific application of medical science.
With one caveat... On a recent check up with my doctor, I asked about Gardasil. I'm that rare person who has been exclusively lesbian, and though most of my partners have had heterosexual contacts (this is typically how HPV is transmitted, though the inherent messiness of sex makes it conceivable that transmission can occur between women) all my pap smears have been clean and I've never had any indicators of HPV infection.
My doctor, as all my doctors always have, raised a quizzical eyebrow as I explained this, but I reiterated: no really, only girls. Aren't I good candidate for Gardasil? Turns out I'm not. The vaccine is only available to women 26 years of age and younger. She told me that even if I were able to find a doctor who would provide it to my 31 year old self, it would be a fairly expensive endeavor: three rounds of shots costing in the neighborhood of $200 each.
Merck's website for the drug is pretty unhelpful when it comes to answering my question about why I shouldn't have access to the vaccine at 31. Wikipedia's article also fails to address it, but my guess is that there are studies showing that age 27 is some kind of HPV sweet spot, i.e., if you're going to get it, you've probably got it by then.
And I might. But then again, I might not. I do wish Gardasil was an option for me, because the simplest cure is always prevention.