What if preventing cancer were possible? Now, what if it were free? A grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health makes it possible for uninsured and underinsured women across Missouri to receive a free vaccine that protects against cervical cancer. The not-for-profit foundation is the result of one of 12 spin-off organizations created after Blue Cross Blue Shield reorganized into a profit-seeking company.
The $11 million grant, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, allows health centers in Missouri, including The Family Health Center in Columbia, to give the three-dose human papilloma virus vaccine to over 30,000 qualified women.
Gardasil, the only vaccine of its kind, protects women and children ages 9 to 26 against certain strains of HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. According to the Gardasil Web site, the vaccine is most beneficial when given to young women before exposure to HPV, although it also protects those who may have been infected by HPV during sexual activity. While it might be preventative, the vaccine doesn’t come cheap, ranging anywhere from $125 to $160 a dose. Before the grant was introduced, women who wanted the vaccination had three options to pay:
- The vaccine was covered by their insurance.
- They qualified for federally funded programs.
- They paid the full price for each shot.
The grant fills in the gaps by providing the vaccine to women that don’t fall into those categories, said Bev Pfeifer-Harms, the director of communications for the Missouri Foundation for Health.
“For a lot of families this is too much money for the shot, but they aren’t meeting the specifications for these programs,” she said. “This is where the grant comes in.”
The grant pays for women older than 18 who have outgrown federal programs for children but still meet the criteria. Those who simply don’t have insurance but don’t qualify for other federally funded programs like Medicaid also benefit from the grant.
In addition, the grant provides the vaccine to those who are what Pfeifer-Harms calls “underinsured,” or women who may have insurance but their insurance doesn’t cover the HPV vaccination.
Where to get the vaccine
For women who meet the grant’s guidelines, the Family Health Center in Columbia is the only place to receive a free consultation and vaccine.
For everyone else, the Boone County Health Department, as well as some doctor’s offices and Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy have the shot available.
“Doctor’s offices don’t always carry the vaccine,” explained Bethanie Pickering, a licensed practical nurse at the pharmacy.
The vaccine can expire quickly if kept at a doctor’s office and not used, creating an expensive waste.
Pickering also says it is important to receive all three doses of the vaccine, which is administered in the arm again two months after the first injection and finally six months after the first injection.
“We recommend to get the vaccine within a week of your appointment time,” Pickering said. She also said customers can arrange for the provider of the vaccine, Gardasil, to send reminders to them in the form of text messages when their next appointment time is nearing.
Pickering, who has received the shot, vaccinates an average of 3-4 women each day and says they are typically college age.
“There is a great awareness within universities concerning this issue,” Pfeifer-Harms said.