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Universities gain greater emergency contraception accessibility

Parteek Singh poses next to the first emergency contraception vending machine at the University of California, Davis. Singh spearheaded the push for the implementation of the machines. Photo courtesy of Singh.

Several universities throughout the country have recently implemented on-campus wellness vending machines that sell emergency contraception at a discounted price, 24/7.

This month, Stanford University unveiled its first wellness machine on campus. The machine sells a generic form of Plan B One-Step called My Way, as well as other over-the-counter items such as condoms, pregnancy tests, period products and Advil — following in the footsteps of a similar machine implemented at University of California, Davis in April 2017. 

Parteek Singh, the UC Davis graduate who spearheaded the implementation of the wellness machine at his university, said he faced some pushback from the administration but encouraged students everywhere to pursue it anyway. 

“As a student, your biggest role is to advocate for this resource and make sure it comes on campus,” said Singh. “But then it is the administration's job to take control of how it's going to run and how they're going to implement this."

Like UC Davis and Stanford University, UNC’s Campus Health pharmacies have abbreviated hours on weekends and evenings, making Plan B available to students on campus no later than 6 p.m. on weekdays and between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. 

Generic Plan B can be purchased for a discounted price of $26 at the Healthy Heels Shoppe at Campus Health as well as the pharmacy in the Student Stores on weekdays and Saturdays. Outside of Campus Health, the average price of Plan B One-Step is $50 and one-dose generic forms cost about $40. 

Prescription forms are also available at Campus Health Pharmacy for those who find Plan B is not right for them. 

“We do think it's useful to talk with a pharmacist although we don’t want to present that as a barrier in any way which is why we have the Plan B available on our shelves,” said Amy Sauls, the director of the pharmacy for UNC Campus Health Services. “You don’t have to talk to a pharmacist or to anyone. You can just purchase it.”

According to Sauls, prescription forms can be more effective than generic Plan B, and can be used up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. 

“Ulipristal, which is Ella, is considered more effective than Plan B and there have been studies that show that Plan B is not effective in women with a BMI of 26 or greater," she said. "A lot of people have a BMI of 26 or greater, so Ulipristal might be preferred in that circumstance.”

While Plan B might not suit everyone’s needs, it is still the most commonly used form of emergency contraception — and to many, making it available is a step forward for women’s reproductive rights. 

“It destigmatizes it and makes it available widely and freely, as it should be,” said Jen Ferris, director of reproductive advocacy at Progress North Carolina. “For some people, it’s hard to interact with a person when buying something related to their sexual health.”

Julia Miller, a junior at UNC, said she doesn't see a difference between a vending machine on campus and going to Campus Health.

"I get that it protects a person’s privacy and provides a certain anonymity, but I don’t think anyone should ever feel ashamed to go in person and seek advice from a pharmacist,” she said. “The act itself should be normalized.”


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