The New HPV Vaccine Is More Expensive, But It Will Save Billions


When the FDA approved an expanded HPV vaccine in 2014, some balked at the price increase compared to other versions of the vaccine. However, a new study has found that even with the higher cost per dose, the added protection offered in the vaccine will save billions of dollars if vaccination rates are improved. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The newest version of the vaccine — dubbed Gardasil 9 —protects against nine strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts and cancers affecting the throat, cervix, penis, and anus. The other versions of the vaccine protect against either two or four strains of HPV. 

Gardasil 9 protects against 5 additional strains of HPV compared to the older vaccines and the price of the vaccine is $18 and $13 more per dose, respectively. The price increase is worth it, though, because the nine strains covered cause 80 percent of all cervical cancers, whereas the four strains of HPV prevented in the older vaccine cause 66 percent of all cancers. 

Full-series HPV coverage by state. 
Full-series HPV coverage by state.  David Durham

Nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and a quarter of them will die from the disease. Even factoring in the price increase, widening the shield of protection against cervical cancer will have an enormous impact on reducing spending on medical costs. 

How much of an impact? More than $3 billion will be saved in the coming decades, in addition to thousands of lives.

The HPV vaccine has already been successful at reducing rates of HPV in teens by 64 percent in 10 years even though it faces a very big problem: vaccination rates are fairly low and there isn't much consistency across the U.S. 

Part of this problem is that the HPV vaccine is targeted to pre-teens so that they can go through the full series before becoming sexually active and exposed to the virus. Many parents don't want to think about their child contracting STDs and opt against it. 

There needs to be a concerted effort across the country to increase the vaccination rate overall, as well as minimizing the difference between states. States are able to independently set the requirements for what vaccines are required to attend school and making those more consistent would do an incredible amount of good in preventing the spread of HPV.

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