Merck's refreshed HPV vaccine push puts Mom in the spotlight

Merck & Co. has added a twist to its years-long HPV vaccine awareness campaign—and parents finally get a say.

For the past three years, the Merck campaign featured children asking “Did you know?” to their parents, referring to human papillomavirus' links to cancer and the HPV vaccine that can prevent it. "I knew," says a mother narrating the new TV spot.

The latest ad, which rolled out last week, uses the same reverse time progression as the other ads. A grown man gets younger in a series of photos, but his mother speaks about the risks of HPV infection and the availability of a shot that can be administered at a young age. She ends the ad saying, “I knew. So I talked to my doctor.”

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“Because many parents may still be unaware of the link between HPV and certain cancers, we are continuing our efforts to educate them about the potential risk for their children later in life and the CDC recommendation for HPV vaccination at age 11 and 12,” Merck said in an emailed statement to FiercePharma.

Merck began running the ads in mid-2016, on the heels of a push by doctors and researchers to encourage HPV vaccinations. In October 2016, the CDC called on doctors to pitch HPV shots as cancer prevention, not STD protection. Merck’s HPV shot Gardasil 9 is currently the only HPV vaccine available in the U.S. Its only rival, GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, pulled out of the U.S. market in 2016 amid poor sales.

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U.S. sales of Gardasil are on the rise, finishing 2018 at $835 million, up 32% over 2017. Worldwide sales topped $3.15 billion, far outpacing the previous year sales of $2.31 billion.

“We remain committed to the educational campaign in terms of raising awareness and encouraging parents to talk with their children’s health care professional,” Merck said.