Cost-Effectiveness of a Potential Vaccine for Human papillomavirus

Gillian D. Sanders, Al V. Taira


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2003;9(1) 

In This Article


We evaluated the usefulness of a potential vaccine against high-risk HPV types administered to adolescent girls and found it to be cost effective as compared to current practice ($22,755/QALY). Although the increase in quality-adjusted life expectancy from a vaccination program is modest for the individual, the increase aggregates to substantial numbers of HPV infections, cases of cervical cancer, and prevented cancer-related deaths ( Table 2 ). Furthermore, the life-expectancy gains are similar to those realized by current vaccination programs. Vaccination against high-risk HPV saved 2.8 life days and 4.0 quality-adjusted life days per person. In comparison, vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis each save 2.7, 3.0, 0.3, and 3.3 life days, respectively[28,29]. Sensitivity analyses found that the HPV vaccine would be cost effective, even assuming vaccine efficacy as low as 40% or that booster shots would be required every 3 years.

The only previous analysis of the cost effectiveness of a vaccine against HPV was published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM)[30]. That analysis also showed an HPV vaccine to be cost effective. Our analysis differs from the IOM's, however, in that we modeled a vaccine specific to high-risk types of HPV because such vaccines are under development and in clinical trials. In addition, our progression and recurrence rates are HPV-type specific.

Our analysis does have limitations. We analyzed the benefits and costs of vaccinating only adolescent girls against HPV. Because HPV is sexually transmitted, reducing the prevalence of HPV in the population will also affect the prevalence of HPV in women's sexual partners. Although HPV is most commonly associated with cervical cancer, it may also play a role in cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis. The benefits of HPV vaccination associated with reductions in these types of cancers are not included in our analysis. Including them should make HPV vaccination even more favorable. The decision whether to vaccinate adolescent boys as well is more complex; therefore, in future work we plan to extend our analysis to incorporate such costs and benefits. In addition, the costs and benefits used in this analysis are tailored to the population and health-care environment of the United States. As Figure 5 demonstrates, the availability of HPV vaccines may justify less frequent Pap tests. This effect may be particularly relevant in developing countries that must decide how best to allocate their limited health-care resources.

We make several assumptions about the target vaccination population and program implementation that need discussion in terms of their political and social feasibility. First, we propose a school-based vaccination program rather than a clinic-based one. School-based immunization programs address several challenges encountered when vaccinating adolescents. First, school-based programs provide an infrastructure in which to vaccinate adolescents. Adolescent health-care visits are often not routine, and given scheduled visits, adolescents are often noncompliant with appointments. In addition, we believe that fitting the three-dose HPV vaccination regimen into the academic year will increase compliance while containing costs. Several school-based programs have documented completion rates of >90%. In contrast, lower rates of completion (11% to 87%) have been found in more traditional health-care settings[31,32,33,34]. Second, we propose providing universal vaccination rather than targeting specific high-risk groups. Certain groups of women are at higher risk for HPV infection, and the cost effectiveness of vaccinating such target groups may be more favorable than a universal vaccination program. Experience with Hepatitis B vaccination in adolescents, however, has demonstrated how such groups may be those that are hardest to reach[13,14,35], and that many risk factors for infection (such as number of partners) may not be readily identifiable[13,14]. Finally, we propose vaccinating girls at an early adolescent age (12 years). Although the lifetime cost of vaccinating 12-year-old girls is slightly greater than that of vaccinating 15-year-old girls, earlier vaccination costs <$50,000 per QALY when compared to costs of vaccinating older adolescents. A significant proportion of adolescents are sexually active by 15 years of age; therefore, vaccination at 12 years of age aims to include as many girls as possible before sexual activity begins and HPV infection risk increases. In addition, studies using Hepatitis B vaccines as a proxy have found better immune responses in younger persons and have shown that younger children require lower doses[36,37]. Finally, we believe a 3-dose school-based vaccination program aimed at 12-year olds will result in greater compliance because adolescents of this age have more consistent school attendance[13,38,39,40]. Before a HPV vaccination program is successfully implemented, social and political issues will need to be addressed and agreed upon by stakeholder groups, including pediatricians, public health officers, parents, adolescents, school administrators, and community leaders.

Several institutions, including Merck Research Laboratories, MedImmune Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), are developing and testing prophylactic HPV vaccines. Researchers at NCI and Johns Hopkins have developed a virus-like particle vaccine with promising initial results[9,10]. If the results of the recently completed Phase II study in the United States and Costa Rica confirm the Phase I results, a Phase III trial in Costa Rica involving 10,000 women will begin. Nonetheless, a vaccine probably will not be approved for widespread use for 3-5 years. Meanwhile, the need for continued cervical-cancer screening and treatment programs remains high.

Our study suggests that vaccination of girls with a HPV vaccine is cost effective when compared to many other generally acceptable health interventions. Although HPV vaccines are still under development, our assessment of the cost effectiveness, however, is robust across a wide range of vaccine mechanisms and efficacies. Although several hurdles to an HPV vaccine must be overcome before it is widely disseminated, our analysis suggests that a vaccine against high-risk HPV would have substantial public health benefit and emphasizes the importance of ongoing vaccine research and development.


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