Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that boys in the US be immunized against human papillomavirus (HPV) beginning at age 11-12, just as they had previously recommended for girls. The recommendation is to use Gardasil, the vaccine produced by Merck. It should cost about $360 per person for the 3-dose schedule, not including fees for clinic visits.
By protecting against infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which are associated with development of cervical, penile, and anal cancers (and have been reported in conjunction with some oral cancers), Gardasil is meant to be a cancer vaccine.
What does this mean for people in poor countries — where cervical and penile cancer are much more common than in the US, but the vaccine at American prices would be prohibitively expensive? There are an estimated 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer worldwide, of which only about 12,000 (2.4%) are in the US. Penile and oral cancer are even rarer here.
So is Merck using the world burden of cancer as an excuse to sell vaccine that the people who need it — primarily women in poor countries — won’t be able to afford?
Merck has begun an initiative to make Gardasil available in the rest of the world. They say they will donate 3 million doses of the vaccine (enough to immunize a million people — about 2 years’ worth of new infections) over the next 5 years. Some of this will be done through the Global Vaccine Initiative, GAVI.