Can public health campaigns goose Gardasil and Cervarix sales?

Public health experts are worried about the latest numbers on HPV vaccine uptake. After all, the shots can prevent cervical cancer, and that's no small thing. So, with a majority of girls eschewing the shots, government officials and others are trying to figure out how to turn the tide.

Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Cervarix have been on the market for years, and despite official recommendations, only about a third of teenage girls have received all three doses. The slow uptake is a public health problem, but it's also a marketing drag for the two companies. Changing the trend could jump-start Gardasil and Cervarix sales.

Part of the problem is that the human papillomavirus is transmitted by sexual contact, and parents are squeamish about vaccinating their daughters against a sex-related disease, The New York Times points out. So, some public health types suggest playing up the shot's cancer-prevention use--and playing down the sex angle. Others are brainstorming ways to make the shots more accessible, such as delivering the two required boosters at schools or pharmacies.

Meanwhile, local officials and public health advocates are stepping up their own efforts. A Facebook campaign in Kentucky boosted vaccination rates by 10%, and a pediatrician training program in Massachusetts goosed participation rates, too.

But insurance coverage plays a role, too. Public clinics provide the shots for free, but private insurance coverage is spotty. Many patients have to pay full price, the NYT reports. The Affordable Care Act mandates coverage--and that change may help turn the tide.

- read the NYT piece