The purpose of this column is to debunk myths about pharmaceuticals and, more specifically, to defend the drug manufacturers from unfair attacks against their products in the media. So I was not surprised when James Chase, editor of this magazine, wasn't exactly sure why I wanted to devote a column to Gardasil, Merck's new vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV). But while Merck has been attacked viciously over Vioxx, it has not been singled out for Gardasil.
Which is precisely my point. Merck, a company which has been accused of draconian indifference to cardiac risks, should in fact be applauded for this vaccine. Imagine the lives that will be saved. Hoorah for Merck!
According to Merck's data, Gardasil is 100% effective in preventing HPV infection with strains 16 and 18, which together cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases; and it is reportedly 99% effective in preventing HPV strains 6 and 11, which together with 16 and 18 cause about 90% of genital warts cases. Plus, a study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings showed additional protection against vaginal and vulvar cancers.
In early July, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously that all girls ages 11 and 12 receive Gardasil. Even if there is some controversy about whether to give it to all girls of a certain age, or just those who are sexually active or about to become sexually active, there can be no controversy that this vaccine is a major breakthrough in the world of immunization.
The FDA has approved Gardisil, and when it is used regularly in daily medical practice, several thousand less women per year should get gynecological cancer. Merck's research pipeline should be congratulated for this discovery and for bringing a vaccination dream through the entire painstaking process until it became a reality.
And those in the media who are so quick to criticize should be the first to applaud when applause is due.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear.