Harry Cabluck/AP

Gardasil: Medical Necessity or Marketing Success?

October 09, 2008 06:15 PM
by Cara McDonough
Even after reports of negative health effects, a quarter of girls aged 13–17 have received Merck’s HPV vaccine, due in large part to its marketing campaign.

30-Second Summary

Doctors, patients and other members of the public continue to seriously question Gardasil, a vaccine created by pharmaceutical giant Merck, especially following recent reports of serious adverse health problems, including death, allegedly related to the vaccine.

Yet the drug remains popular, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that a quarter of girls in the 13–17 age range have received the shot. The reason for its popularity, says Elisabeth Rosenthal in the International Herald Tribune, is a “triumph of what the manufacturers call education and their critics call marketing.”

Dr. Diane Harper, one of Gardisil’s original principal investigators, says the vaccine entered the mainstream too fast. Gardasil took six months from application to approval, whereas most vaccines take three years.

“Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politicians, and went directly to the people—it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now,” she said.

The vaccine maker has also brought attention to cervical cancer by providing money for patients’ and women’s groups, and doctors, medical experts, lobbyists and political organizations interested in the disease. Merck also launched an award-winning advertising campaign.

But critics worried about Gardasil’s rapid rise from start-up vaccine to supposed medical necessity are unlikely to quiet down any time soon.

In addition to adverse health effects, some worry that Gardasil may be targeting the wrong age group—11- and 12-year-olds—altogether. Middle-school-age girls who receive the vaccine will be no more than 18 when they pass its five-year proven window of effectiveness.

Additionally, many young women’s immune systems clear the virus within one to two years of contracting it. And when detected early, HPV can be treated and rarely leads to cancer.

Headline Link: Gardasil popular despite concerns

Background: Controversy over HPV vaccine

Opinion & Analysis: Weighing the pros and cons

Related Topics: Gardasil given too young; STDs in teenagers; the abstinence issue

Reference: Cervical cancer statistics; STDs


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