Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease. Some strains of it cause genital warts. Others cause cervical cancer: not in everyone who gets them, most people fight it off and regular Pap smears catch the cell changes early, but even so.
Gardasil is a vaccine against strains 16 and 18 of HPV, which are responsible for 70% of cases of cervical cancer. It also vaccinates against types 6 and 11, which are responsible for 90% of genital warts cases.
Gardasil is going to be given to high school girls from now on, apparently at more or less the same age as the rubella vaccine. However, there is also a catch up program on for women 26 and under whereby we can also get the vaccine for free. The catch up program ends in June 2009, and you must have had all three doses by then. (However, why not have them now, and enjoy that extra 18 months of protection?) It takes six months for the full course: one shot, then another two months later and another after a further four months.
You can get the vaccine for free if you are a woman and are 26 or under at the time of the first dose. Just go to any GP, hand over a Medicare card and say you want the cervical cancer vaccine. All the medical centres around here have signs up in their windows encouraging women to come in and get it anyway. I had the first dose today. My doctor didn’t feel the need to ask me about my sex life or anything else before administering it.
It’s not approved at all for any adult men or adult women over the age of 26; you won’t even be allowed to pay for it (the scheduled price is $460) unless they approve it later.
The Department of Health has a good FAQ on the vaccine and the free vaccination programme.
Hat tip to Catie, who first alerted me to the fact that the vaccine was even approved, let alone free.