Young women looking to protect themselves from cervical cancer in the near future may have little more than cheerful faces on television commercials to help them cope with medical expenses.
Despite the recent allocation of $300 million in the federal budget to fund the introduction of HPV vaccination programs across Canada, women seeking treatment with the brand name drug Gardasil will have to shoulder the $400 fee alone for some time to come.
Alberta Health Care does not currently cover Gardasil, a three-dose vaccine proven to be completely effective against four major strains of the human papillomavirus, a sexually-transmitted infection which causes genital warts and most types of cervical cancer. While plans are in place to include Gardasil in the province's public immunization program, Dr. Shainoor Virani, associate provincial health officer for Alberta Health and Wellness, said there is still much to consider before this can be done.
"We need to know exactly the number of dollars being allocated to Alberta," said Dr. Virani. "Prevention of [cervical cancer] requires a broad strategy."
Dr. Virani noted that health care providers have been provided with recommendations for the purchase and implementation of the vaccine. In the meantime, women should look to private health insurance providers to see whether their plan currently covers Gardasil.
"It's a very expensive vaccine," said Dr. Virani. "But I would encourage people to talk to their doctor about purchasing Gardasil and investigate as to whether the vaccine is covered."
Although pilot programs in Australia and some U.S. states currently offer publicly-funded Gardasil vaccinations to school-aged children, government funding of Gardasil is rare. But a similar program in Alberta is not out of the question, according to Dr. Virani.
"Studies have shown Gardasil is most effective when given before onset of sexual intercourse," said Dr. Virani. "We have a very successful hepatitis B school vaccination program, so [a publicly-funded school program] would be an option we would consider in the future."
Dr. Virani qualified the government's hesitation in introducing such a program and said the vaccine's effectiveness warrants further study.
"What's the best program option?" asked Dr. Virani. "Who needs to be immunized? When? How will it affect cervical cancer rates? What are the operational requirements?"