Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Debate on the HPV Vaccine

A lot of fuss has been made recently about Merck's new vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), GARDASIL®. Legislation has been proposed in several states mandating the HPV vaccine, which has caused an uproar for various reasons.

One of the concerns is that making a vaccine mandatory is a big decision that the government would be making for people, leaving them no choice. I can't, personally, think of any reason why a woman might decide that she'd rather just take her chances with cancer, but I suppose there are people who would make that decision. The question becomes, should we let them? Or should we put together a program where the vaccine is freely available, but make it an opt-in situation?

Another major reason people have objected is because, it turns out, the main group pushing these legislative actions has been a lobbying firm employed by Merck, who stands to make a sizeable profit off this vaccine, even if it doesn't become mandatory... but an even bigger profit if it does.

My feeling on this latter reason--Merck making huge profits--is this: good for them. Why should we care if somebody makes a profit? They put a lot of time and resources into developing this vaccine. And let's keep something else in mind here: they developed a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer in many cases. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2002 nearly 4,000 women died from cervical cancer and more than 12,000 others were diagnosed with the disease. Merck has invented a product with the ability to save thousands of lives every year, with three separate shots costing about $120 each.

So think about any girl or young woman you know between the ages of 9 and 26 and ask yourself this... is $360 a fair price to pay for a 70% chance of preventing HPV and reducing the risk of cervical cancer?

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