- According to a new study, widespread adoption of an updated Gardasil vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) could significantly lower the incidence of cervical cancer and save the healthcare system $27 billion through 2050.
- The version of Gardasil, made by Merck, currently in use decreases cervical cancer incidence by 63% and related deaths by 43%, according to Stat. But the newest version could do even better—reducing incidence by 73% and deaths by 49%.
- Savings would come from coordinated adoption across states as improved "herd immunity" would lower incidence and healthcare costs. In direct costs per unit, however, the new Gardasil is more expensive than the older version or GlaxoSmithKline's competing Cervarix, reports Stat.
Gardasil 9, Merck's latest HPV vaccine, was approved by the FDA in December 2014 for use in females between the ages of 9 and 26, and males between the ages of 9 and 15. In clinical studies, Gardasil 9 was 97% effective in preventing cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers caused by HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
In addition to being tested for efficacy based on antibody responses, researchers also assessed the safety of Gardasil 9 in approximately 13,000 males and females, with the most common adverse reactions being injection site pain, swelling, redness, and headache.
Yet despite this data, uptake continues to be slow, with less than 55% of eligible girls having received the vaccine, and even fewer boys. Concerns range from fears of increased sexual promiscuity and pregnancy, to vaccine-associated risks, including dizziness and possible autoimmune conditions. Each of these concerns has been thoroughly evaluated in clinical trials and various studies—and in each case, the vaccine has been found to be safe.
Another potential barrier to uptake is direct cost. In fact, Gardasil 9 is $13 more expensive on a per-dose basis than the previous version and $18 more expensive than GSK's Cervarix, according to Stat. Large-scale utilization of the new vaccine might swell budgets in the short to medium-term, but this study makes an argument for long-term (over 35 years) cost-effectiveness.