As HPV data stacks up, Merck touts Gardasil for boys

Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil journey is becoming a saga, with twists and turns all over the place. When first approved, the vaccine against human papillomavirus was tagged as a no-brainer blockbuster.

But uptake of the vaccine hit a snag; after about a third of eligible girls were vaccinated, sales growth stalled. The company's bid to expand marketing to older women fell short. But then the FDA decided to approve Gardasil for use in boys and young men to prevent genital warts.

Genital warts aren't cancer, as the New York Times points out. And persuading young men and parents to get Gardasil for "herd immunity" purposes--the idea that vaccinating boys might protect girls against cervical cancer, too--is an iffy proposition. "You do a public service by getting your child vaccinated," Jane Kim, an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health, told the newspaper, but acknowledged that for some parents, that's a tough sell.

But scientists are saying HPV is linked to such maladies as penile and anal cancer. It's also linked to throat cancers, which, despite their link to oral sex, are still a bit easier to talk about. Merck is hoping that the data will stack up enough to win a national recommendation to make Gardasil part of the routine vaccination schedule, the NYT notes.

- read the NYT piece