Several Ivy League schools have recently announced that students under their insurance plans will be eligible for a low-cost HPV vaccine, but Penn officials say they currently have no plans to do the same.
Brown and Harvard universities decided this semester to offer the three-dose human papillomavirus vaccine for $75 to all female students under 26 covered by the universities' insurance plans.
Those announcements followed Yale University's decision in June to cover the vaccination under its insurance plan, with about a $100 deductible.
But women covered by Penn's Student Health insurance will have to wait at least another year before having inexpensive access to the vaccine, which protects against a killer of 4,000 American women every year.
HPV, a virus that affects the skin and mucous membranes, is a leading cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine protects against four types of the disease, including two that cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
But the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee decided that the Penn Student Insurance Plan will not include the vaccine, called Gardasil, in its coverage.
University officials cited the high cost of the vaccine - close to $400 - as the reason behind the Committee's decision.
Evelyn Weiner, director of Student Health Service, said she hopes other vaccines currently being formulated will soon provide competition for Gardasil and drive the cost down to a price where Penn will be comfortable covering it.
But at other Ivy League schools, officials said that while cost was an issue, the benefits of the vaccine were too great to ignore.
David Rosenthal, director of Harvard's University Health Services, said the vaccine is especially vital for international students.
Jo Parrish, vice president of the Society for Women's Health Research, criticized Penn for not taking similar steps to offer the vaccine.
"I'm really surprised a college is not offering this," she said. "If I were a mother, I would advocate for it to change."
A lack of advocacy may be why Penn officials aren't rushing to cover the vaccine. The announcements at both Harvard and Yale followed months of student criticism from campus groups, but little formal protest has occurred at Penn.
Most private insurance plans cover the vaccine, and slightly under half of Penn students use the University's Penn Student Insurance Plan. At Harvard, 70 to 80 percent of students use their university's health insurance, according to Rosenthal.
The three Ivy League schools are joined by Princeton University in offering the vaccine under their respective insurance plans, but Wiener said other universities' policies will have no effect on Penn's.
"Our decision of what to do at the University of Pennsylvania is based on what's best for our students," Wiener said.
The Advisory Committee will explore whether to cover the vaccine again next year.
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