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ANCHORAGE - The high cost of a new vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer is preventing some Alaskans from getting it.
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The vaccine, Gardasil, hit the market last summer. The cost can be $600 or more for a three-shot series.
The high expense is leading the state health department to ask if it can afford to give the vaccine free to all Alaska girls age 9 through 18.
"It's far and away the most expensive vaccine we've added to the public health arsenal," said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director of the state Division of Public Health.
The vaccine is designed to protect against certain types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer each year nationwide and 3,700 deaths from the disease.
The complete Gardasil immunization requires the three shots within six months. The CDC recommends it for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and says the ideal time to get the shots is before women become sexually active.
HPV is transmitted through intercourse and other forms of sexual contact.
Planned Parenthood of Alaska started offering the vaccine this winter. So far, only 12 people have received it at its clinics, said Clover Simon, chief executive officer. At Planned Parenthood, the cost for all three shots is $480.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has had a longtime practice of paying for recommended vaccines for all children but the high expense has left them questioning whether Gardasil will be an exception.
"(The cost is) a huge barrier," Simon said.