As the nation’s attention is focused on the discussion about healthcare reform, another debate is taking place. Ironically, it crisscrosses with elements found in the larger conversation including: the right of American women – regardless of income – to have accessible health care, the role of pharmaceutical companies in the healthcare equation, parental rights, informed consent, and the influence of lobbyists. Add in the issue of teenage sexuality, and you have a confluence of factors contributing to the groundswell of dialogue taking place around the Gardasil vaccine developed by Merck & Co., Inc.
The vaccine was introduced in 2006 to protect girls and young women against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are strains 6 and 11, which cause genital warts, and strains 16 and 18, which cause the development of approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers.
Currently the vaccine has been administered to over 7 million girls and young women nationally. Gardasil garnered sales in the United States, during the first half of fiscal 2009, of $363 million. As pointed out in a New York Times article about the STD vaccine market, health analyst Tim Anderson of the New York firm Sanford C. Bernstein, (which provides research for investors) forecast that in 2015, Gardasil would own 65 percent of an estimated $3.7 billion worldwide market for the HPV vaccine. Competitor GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is offering Cervarix, will make up the balance.
When I first started looking at the HPV vaccine, I didn’t realize that the story would be so expansive, touching on a wide range of issues. My goal is to present basic information and various points of view about the HPV vaccine. This is an evolving narrative.