Unfortunately, Yale will not join this queue. Last month, the University announced that it was discontinuing the program, not because of conservative moral doubts or objections, but because a little-known state law prohibits vending machines from being used to sell over-the-counter drugs. This week, at the request of students at the University of Southern Maine, a bill was introduced in Maine to allow over-the-counter drugs, including emergency contraceptives, to be sold on vending machines.
But even if Yale and Maine students have to wait for this cautious and simple way to get emergency contraceptives, it is undeniable that emergency contraceptives in the United States have undergone a major shift towards normalization: they can now be found in health clinics, pharmacies and vending machines.
If women have sex with others without any protection, it is necessary to take emergency contraceptives within 72 hours in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Since 2006, it has been provided free of charge for people over 18 years of age, and since 2013, it has been available to people of all ages without ID cards.
But in some pharmacies, this may be a major obstacle for anyone embarrassed or anxious about buying contraceptives. Distance is an additional obstacle for students on campus, says Rachel Samuels, a Stanford alumnus who is responsible for more emergency contraceptives on campus. Samuels said that at Stanford University, the nearest pharmacy is about 25 minutes'walk (10 minutes' bicycle ride) and there is no guarantee that emergency contraceptives are actually in stock.
That's why when Stanford students started asking for emergency contraceptives on campus a few years ago, they saw vending machines as a solution. The trend of vending machines began at the University of Spensburg, Pennsylvania, which had emergency contraceptives in vending machines in 2012. Then the vending machines began to spread all over the United States. Samuels got the idea from her brother, who helped store the product in the existing vending machines at Pomona College.
Her work resulted in a small high-tech vendor called Vengo, located in the all-gender bathroom at Stanford University Student Center. It allows students to obtain my Way brand emergency contraceptives (and condoms) confidentially at any time of the day. The price of contraceptives is $25, which is lower than $26 charged by student health centers, or $40 or $50 retailed in pharmacies.
According to Shanta Katipamula, vice president of Stanford University, these machines are very popular and widely used by students. In 2018, the machine sold 329 boxes of emergency contraceptives; due to student demand, the university plans to install a second machine at the Li Ka-shing Knowledge Research Center.
Vengo Labs has been selling emergency contraceptives at Columbia University and George Mason University since the Stanford Machine debuted in October 2017. Sources at Columbia University in New York City report that these machines are popular, but not very useful, probably because there are many pharmacies near the campus.
Brian Shimmerlik, founder of Vengo Laboratories, was thrilled that machines with emergency contraceptives had been welcomed by student groups, but said he had no positive plans to actively promote the product to other campuses. Many of its machines sell snacks or small electronics, not drugs. After all, Shimmerlik said, "We're not an emergency contraceptive company." "We provide access to products." For Vengo Labs, emergency contraceptives are just another product customers want to buy.