The Magazine

A Merck-y Business

The case against mandatory HPV vaccinations.

Mar 12, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 25 • By MICHAEL FUMENTO
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In any event, the real need for an HPV vaccine is outside the United States. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer worldwide strikes half a million women yearly and kills 250,000 of them. In developing countries it is the greatest cause of cancer deaths in women. There, neither incidence nor death rates are falling. WHO has also found that "cervical cancer screening programs in [Latin America and the Caribbean] have generally failed to reduce cases and mortality rates largely because of inadequacies in treatment and follow-up." That's where these vaccines need to go, with support from such philanthropies as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Obviously, though, the price will have to come way down from that $360.

None of this is to deny that HPV vaccines have the potential to save lives and possibly also money in the U.S. market--though cost considerations must take into account that under a mandatory program, we are shelling out $360 per vaccine for tens of millions of people. This is not to say these vaccines shouldn't continue to be available to women and parents who feel they can afford them. It is to say we can afford to wait for Merck to receive some healthy competition. Nor should the concerns of those worried about both the loss of parental control and the encouragement of early sexual intercourse be dismissed so lightly.

Michael Fumento is a military, health, and science writer in Washington.