After struggling to persuade parents to vaccinate teenage girls against human papillomavirus (HPV), health experts expected a frosty reception when labeling was expanded to include boys. Yet early data shows Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil is off to a good start.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 21% of boys received at least one dose of Gardasil in 2012, the first full year it was recommended for routine vaccination. In 2011, the year in which CDC made its recommendation, just 8% of boys received the vaccine. Data for 2012 compares favorably to the introductions of other vaccines targeting adolescents. Sanofi's ($SNY) meningococcal vaccine, Menactra, was received by one in 10 adolescents aged 11 to 16 in its first year, although shortages may have limited uptake.
When the HPV vaccine was first introduced for girls, 25% received at least one dose. Uptake is now stuck around 50%. Models show that the benefits of vaccinating boys are particularly pronounced when few girls are immunized, so health officials are keen to build on the good first year. "We'd really like to do much better with boys and girls," CDC's Dr. Melinda Wharton told the Associated Press. Increasing the number of boys receiving all three doses is one of the challenges. In 2012, just 7% of boys surveyed were fully vaccinated against HPV.
Immunization rates in other disease areas also increased in 2012. The percentage of teens vaccinated against chickenpox and meningitis rose, as did the proportion receiving the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster shot. Vaccine coverage is still below national goals, though. "We lose steam in adolescence and that isn't good for our patients. We routinely give multiple vaccines at once in the early years, but let ourselves be talked out of it when kids are older," Boston Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy told USA Today.