RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new protection against cervical cancer could hit the market this week.
Gardasil 9 is the new, more effective version of the HPV vaccine first offered in 2006. It has been tested for several years all over the world, including here in Richmond.
Allyse Harris dreams of being a Physician’s Assistant. Healthcare is her passion, and now the 23-year-old is part of medical history.
“I’m at that good stage in my life where I can really feel the impact that I’m making for the future,” says Harris, a local participant in the clinical trial of Gardasil 9. Since 2007, she’s been going to the Virginia Women’s Center for regular screenings.
“It’s a huge, huge advancement for this vaccine,” explains Dr. Peter Zedler, the Director of Research at the Virginia Women’s Center.
He says this new vaccine protects against nine types of Human Papillomavirus, compared to four in the earlier version. Gardasil 9 has the potential to prevent 90% of all cervical cancers, which right now kill more than 250,000 women every year.
“As someone who works in the GYN world, we unfortunately see the outcome of abnormal pap smears and early cervical disease and even cervical cancers. The opportunity to eliminate that completely is very exciting for us,” says Dr. Zedler, adding that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It often clears on its own, but some strains can linger and lead to abnormal cells.
Because of the prevalence, all girls are required to get an HPV vaccine before they enter the sixth grade in Virginia. Opponents have said it could make them become sexually active at a younger age, but just this month Harvard researchers concluded there is no link.
Like the older vaccine, Gardasil 9 is most effective in individuals who haven’t yet had sex and been exposed to HPV. In December, the FDA approved this version for females ages 9 to 26 and males ages 9 to 15.
“To know that I’ve been a part of a research study that’s part of preventative medicine especially, since that’s so important in the healthcare field, I think is really gratifying for myself,” Harris says. “I’m around that age where there’s lots of women who might be struggling with contracting HPV and then possibly cervical cancer.”
The Centers for Disease Control is holding a meeting to review Gardasil 9 on Thursday, February 26. There are still some questions about whether insurance will pay for it. The vaccine is expected to hit shelves by the end of the month. Dr. Zedler says the most common side effect is pain or bruising at the injection site.