HPV Vaccine: Why aren't clinics and other docs rushing to offer it?
An article in today's Metro NY talks about the lack of HPV vaccines in New York City's STD clinics and immunization centers. I'm happy to see this article on the front page, because the HPV vaccine needs to be brought to the attention of not only the public, but physicians as well. Gardasil, the quadrivalent version was only released last summer and there is still confusion and misunderstanding amongst physicians as to its use. The article, however, did not make mention of the following very crucial information for the public to be educated about the HPV vaccine:
Gardasil protects against four types of HPV (6, 11, 16, 18). HPV Types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, and HPV Types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts cases.
The CDC currently recommends routine vaccination of all girls ages 11-12, although vaccination may start as early as age 9. Catch-up vaccination is recommended for girls and women ages 13 – 26 who did not receive the initial vaccine series. The vaccine cycle involves 3 doses, given at 0 months, 2 months after the first dose, and 6 months after the first dose.
Having a Positive HPV DNA result on a pap smear is NOT a contraindication to getting vaccinated. This is a misconception I have heard OB/GYNs telling their patients. The vaccine still provides some level of protection, even for someone exposed to one subtype of HPV. The HPV DNA test can only test for low-risk or high-risk. It does not distinguish which HPV type(s) were isolated in the pap smear, as this test is very costly to perform.
In addition, the HPV vaccine, which is relatively costly compared to other vaccines, brings to question some ethical issues in medicine. Each vaccine costs the provider approximately $140 to purchase. This was initially a point of hesitation for me as I'm trying to keep my costs down. Often, Merck will give discounts on mass orders, but one does not want unused vaccines sitting in the refrigerator and going to waste. With each vaccine so costly, the recommended cycle of 3 vaccines will cost $420 just for the vaccine; this is without accounting for storage and administration and overhead costs. Factor that in, and each vaccine costs $210 for a small practice, with the total cost running $630. Now you could lower the margin, but it does not help the public to not be able to meet your overhead costs. Fortunately, insurance plans are stepping up and covering the cost of the vaccine, as they rightly should. I have yet to see what they will reimburse for this, as often they pay less than it costs to purchase the vaccine. The initial creative solution for my practice to control up-front costs is to determine our vaccine requirements ahead of time by having qualified patients commit to receiving the cycle, then ordering based on that demand. One can order vaccines at VaccineShoppe.com, often with a 24 hr delivery time, which makes demand-ordering possible.
Comparative cost of commonly used vaccines on VaccineShoppe.com (other companies offer comparable rates):
Hepatitis A (Adult, single dose) $56.84
Hepatitis B (adult, single dose) $50.54
Gardasil (HPV, single dose) $141.69
Is the high cost justified, or is Merck making a hefty profit before competition hits the market? It seems that MedImmune with GlaxoSmithKline and Norvartis (separately) are racing to bring their own versions of the vaccine to the market. I have mixed feelings about Big Pharma. Even though Merck has helped the public good with its preventive vaccines, it also needs to make money off of them to meet the interests of its shareholders. Its interests are split between helping the public good and helping the pockets of its investors, as we saw with Vioxx. How much profit for Merck is ok when dealing with a matter for the public good? The good news is that competition will eventually lower the price to where it should be.
Finally, while it's true that the