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Health Services Offers HPV Vaccine
March 27, 2007

A somewhat controversial new vaccine is being offered to students at Calvin College and school health officials say there is good reason for their decision.

The Health Services department at Calvin has offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to women students since last fall and is hoping to let more Calvin students know about the service. The vaccine, commonly called the cervical cancer vaccine, protects women from HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes an estimated 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.

Calvin's Nancy VerMerris is director of health services for the college, and says offering the vaccine is not intended to contradict the college's position on pre-marital sex.

"Calvin endorses a Biblical context for human relationships," she says. "We believe that God intended the blessing of sexual intercourse for men and women who leave their parents and become one in marriage. We advocate abstinence prior to marriage for both Biblical and health reasons."

Her colleague Barb Mustert, administrator of travel health and immunization at Calvin, says that women can be exposed to HPV in ways they might not expect and that getting the vacinne now is a smart choice.

“Girls could be exposed after marriage from their husband," she says. "Our message is always abstinence because that is what God wants us to do. Sex is to be saved for marriage. And the hope would be that your marriage partner wouldn’t be exposed to HPV. Our goal is to prevent something from occurring that is preventable. They are working on a vaccine for males, but it is not available yet."

VerMerris notes that most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer were probably exposed in their teens and twenties and that cervical cancer can happen to any woman. In addition to the new vaccine she says routine pap smears also are an important strategy in fighting cancer.

The HPV vaccine, an inactivated vaccine, protects against four major types of HPV, including the two types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. It is administered in three doses, an initial dose followed by a dose at two months and a dose at six months. Because the vaccine isn’t 100-percent effective, Mustert stressed, it is still important for vaccinated women to get routine exams and pap smears.

Each dose costs $155, and Calvin Knightcare Insurance (and some insurance carriers) cover the total cost.

“(At Calvin) we do not make money on vaccines,” Mustert says. “We want to get these kids vaccinated. All they have to do is call and make an appointment and come in, and we give it to them. What we’ve been seeing the most is girls who have decided to get it and then they tell their roommates, and their roommates come in because it’s important. As soon as the vaccine became available, we knew that we wanted to offer it at Calvin. We want to keep students healthy.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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