Marketing medicine: HPV’s “One Less” means so much more

Did your newsroom contribute stories to the war ensuring teenage girls in Canada could be “one less” statistic in the fight against cervical cancer?

Not everybody was loving the big push to inoculate an entire demographic with drug maker Merck’s human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil. Not because they were necessarily anti-vaccine (an entirely different story) but because Merck was coming on so strong in a cause to stop a virus that’s nowhere near as problematic to population health as, say, polio.

In a detailed feature called The Evidence Gap, The New York Times takes a critical lens on the phenomenon behind HPV vaccination, detailing the massive efforts by the drug company to convince all levels of decision makers that this was the “right thing to do”.

Telling details include Merck’s victory within Big Pharma, sweeping the 2008 Pharmaceutical Advertising and Marketing Excellence awards and Gardisil’s choice as Brand of the Year by Pharma Executive Magazine.

Vaccines are a success story in public health. But the aggressive marketing of new vaccines is a brave new world in pharmacy. More is yet to come. Campaigns like One Less demonstrate the value of journalism that instinctively includes aggressive pursuit of another cliché – show me the money.