This is one of the best stories written to date about the complicated topic of how to integrate the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine into health care. It shines a light on the public health issues in a very real perspective and highlights the effectiveness of the marketing campaign used by Merck to promote their vaccine. It provided balance in that it included comments from critics of the campaign as well as spokespeople from Merck.
This was an extraordinarily well conceived, researched and written piece. Thank goodness there still is room in daily newspapers for a 4,100-word piece like this.
The story provided in-depth coverage of the cost of this vaccine; it included cost to providers, consumers (insurance companies) and estimated cost per life saved. This is actually one of the few articles on the subject that has explored the financial issues and trade-offs associated with the use of the vaccine.
The story indicated that the vaccine had the ‘potential to prevent a certain number of deaths’. It also indicated that use of the vaccine might result in a smaller number of false positive results from a Pap test. However, later in the piece, it indicated that since the vaccine was only active against 70% of HPV strains, Pap tests must still be continued. This demonstrates some of the ambiguity about the benefits of treatment.
The story provided the number of reported adverse events that may have been associated with administration of the vaccine. The most common of these (94%) were things such as arm pain and fainting; the more serious possible complications included blood clots, paralysis and death.
The story provided a lot of information about the role of the drug companies involved in the sale of the HPV vaccines to increase consumer awareness about the infection and its possible sequelae to produce a perception about the relative need or merit for their vaccine.
This story did not engage in disease mongering. In fact, it did just the opposite. This is one of the few articles that provides the readers with the true nature of cervical cancer both in the Western and under-developed world. Cervical cancer is a major health hazard in the under-developed world where the cost of the vaccines is prohibitive for widespread use.
This story included quotes from a number of individuals whose perspectives ranged from that of a consumer, expert in vaccines, medical economists to company spokespersons. These sources provided a well rounded perspective on the issues related to the use of the vaccines.
The vaccine is only effective (as far as we know) for about 70% of common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. As a result, annual PAP smears are necessary to identify the disease early. This was really not amplified in the article. It is not a matter of vaccine or no vaccine. The real choice relates to vaccine and routine PAP smear vs. routine PAP smear alone.
The availability of the vaccine was made clear in the story.
The story was clear about the relative novelty of vaccines against HPV in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
It’s quite clear that this in-depth story did not rely on a news release.