What's the Future of the HPV Vaccine?


Getty ImagesIf you cant keep up with the public debate about vaccinating girls against the human papilloma virus (HPV), youre not the only one. Gardasils future in the U.S. (a similar vaccine called Cervarix is sold in some other countries) is so hard to predict that a student at Yale University has attempted to render it digitally on a campus computer, according to a study released Monday.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that reports of serious side effects were too rare for major concern. “Based on all of the information we have today, the CDC and FDA have determined that Gardasil is safe to use and effective in preventing 4 types of HPV,” the CDC stated. But the discussion on the table in the U.S. right now—about whether to routinely vaccinate all girls between 9 and 12—is far from over.

Yales Sanjay Basu, who based his computer model on a combination of game theory, psychology, and epidemiology, input the various public concerns to gauge where the HPV vaccine debate might be headed in the future. He plugged in worries about side effects, for instance; complaints about the cost ($125 per shot, and $375 for the full series recommended); and fear that the vaccine, which blocks four cervical cancer–causing HPV strains, encourages girls to have sex.

Basus findings? Public perception and economics “may prevent achieving vaccination levels sufficient to maximize the health effects of the population and to minimize the health-related costs of HPV disease,” according to a press release.

Of course, we still have a lot to learn about Gardasil, which was approved for use in females between 9 and 26 years of age in June 2006 after an accelerated review. Expect more news all the time, both good and bad.

A new study reported last week found that the drug prevents genital warts in boys and men, for instance. And on the Pacific island nation of Fiji, there was reportedly some panic recently over whether the local governments policy of recommending the vaccine was premature—or even “experimental.”