Low HPV vaccination rates spur calls for wider use

Low vaccination rates against human papillomavirus (HPV) in Europe have regulators there urging all girls to get vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus.

As Reuters and our sister publication FiercePharma report, the initiative from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) comes as it announced that in 19 EU countries with HPV vaccine programs, vaccination rates were as low as 17% in some. HPV causes cervical cancer, which kills 15,000 people per year in the EU, according to the ECDC.

If Europeans take the ECDC's opinion to heart and get vaccinated, it gives Merck ($MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) an opportunity to expand the market for Gardasil and Cervarix, their respective HPV vaccines. Gardasil, for example, has been on a sales roller coaster over the past 5 years, generating $1.5 billion in 2007 only to drop to $1 billion in 2010. It did, however, climb up to $1.2 billion last year. And it's not just Europe seeing low vaccination rates: In the U.S. in 2010, only 32% of girls between 13 and 17 received all three HPV vaccine doses.

One way to boost vaccination rates in Europe would be to open vaccine programs for boys. But while the ECDC acknowledges the ties between HPV and diseases in men, such as anal and penile cancers, instituting male vaccination programs wouldn't be "cost-effective." One country that has made such a program work is Australia, where both boys and girls receive Gardasil for free.

- learn more from Reuters
- here's the story in FiercePharma