Making a decision on whether to vaccinate your child against the myriad of diseases for which vaccines are available, and from which your child may, or may not, suffer in the future, is a complex decision, and needs to be informed by robust and impartial evidence. Many people choose their physician as the first port of call in making these important decisions – so how well informed physicians are about vaccines, and their safety and efficacy, is of the utmost importance.
One of the latest childhood vaccines to be made available is the HPV vaccine. In an editorial just published in JAMA, Charlotte Haug discusses the potential benefits and risks of HPV vaccination and how making decisions about whether to vaccinate requires a solid and unbiased evidence-base. A related ‘special communication’ by Rothman and Rothman investigates the marketing of the Gardasil vaccine and the role of the vaccine manufacturer (Merck) in funding educational programs sponsored by professional medical associations in the US. Both papers are free-to-download. Gardasil has been marketed as an anticancer vaccine and the authors contend that professional medical associations were provided with educational grants by the manufacturer to spread the word about the vaccine. They provide some fascinating snippets describing the programs that the PMAs put together for their members. The main point of concern raised by the authors is the potential for undue influence on positive aspects of the vaccine by the manufacturer.
Clearly the best evidence base to inform use of vaccines against HPV will likely be long-term follow-up trials and identification and targeting of those most likely to benefit from vaccination. In the meantime, it is imperative that any advice and information directed at medical professionals about this vaccine is unbiased.