Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, makers of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, will cut the price of immunization below $5 per dose for millions of girls in the world’s poorest countries. The vaccine protects against HPV strains responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer. The agreement, negotiated through the GAVI Alliance, is similar to AIDS drug agreements.
The lower price initially will be available only for demonstration projects in Kenya, Madagascar, Ghana, and Laos. However, it will extend to 30 million girls in 40 countries by 2020, according to Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI Alliance.
In wealthy countries like the United States, Pap tests have almost eliminated fatal cervical cancer. In contrast, cervical cancer kills approximately 275,000 women annually in poor countries where most women do not have access to Pap tests or HPV vaccine.
HPV vaccination takes three doses over six months, and the vaccine requires refrigeration. The US cost per dose is approximately $130. The per-dose cost in Latin America, which has a mix of poor and middle-class countries, is approximately $13.
Uptake of HPV vaccine has lagged in the United States, where some parents fear side effects and worry that vaccination will encourage sex at a young age. Australians have widely accepted the vaccine, and incidence of cervical abnormalities and genital warts has dropped dramatically.
Kate Elder, a vaccine policy specialist with the Doctors Without Borders charity, voiced disappointment with the negotiated price. She estimated that the cost to manufacture the vaccine was approximately $1 per dose, based on an unofficial estimate of the Pan American Health Organization. Merck’s Dr. Julie Gerberding countered that the company’s manufacturing cost was $4.50; she expected this cost could decrease as the company expanded the volume of manufacture. Berkley forecast that prices would drop as rival drug makers from India and China began manufacturing HPV vaccine.
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