Most parents learn of HPV vaccine via DTC advertising: study

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A majority of parents and healthcare providers of young women are aware of human papillomavirus (HPV), and most of them learned of the HPV vaccine through drug advertising, a study from the University of North Carolina (UNC) found.

Additionally, African-Americans—whom are twice as likely to die from HPV—were less exposed to HPV vaccine advertising, and less aware of the disease than whites, according to Noel Brewer, an author on the study.

“It's a mixed bag,” said Brewer. “The public has benefited from advertising—without ads, few would get the vaccine. But we want to make sure [consumers] are getting balanced information.”

Brewer acknowledged that the Centers for Disease Control has provided health information related to HPV and the HPV vaccine, but says pharmaceutical marketing has a greater reach. “It's an issue of scale. Pharma is making $360 each time the vaccine is administered,” said Brewer. “Increasingly, drug advertising will carry the day.”

Of the 83% of parents and healthcare providers who had heard of HPV, 82% were aware of the vaccine. However, 87% of whites surveyed had heard of the vaccine, compared with 68% of African-Americans. The study (abstract here), published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, surveyed 889 caregivers of adolescent girls ages 10 to 18 years in southeastern North Carolina.

Merck's Gardasil is currently the only HPV vaccine on the market. Approved by the FDA in June 2006, the vaccine—administered in three injections over a six-month period—is indicated for females ages 9 to 26.

GlaxoSmithKline is developing Cervarix for the US market, a potental Gardasil competitor already available in Europe, and hopes to gain approval by the end of 2009. 

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