- Ispot.tv screenshot
“Maybe they didn’t know I would end up with cancer because of HPV,” a man says, as pictures of him as a preteen boy flash across the screen. “Maybe if they’d known there was a vaccine to help protect me when I was 11 or 12.”
“Maybe my parents just didn’t know, right Mom? Dad?”
It’s a new ad for Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV, or human papillomavirus, made by Merck. And it’s taking a daring approach to try to win a public-health campaign that Merck has struggled with since the drug was developed in 2006.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer, of which there are about 12,000 in the US every year, and it has been linked to other forms of cancer as well.
The CDC recommends the vaccine, as the commercial states, in boys and girls ages 11 to 12.
Even so, the vaccine has had a hard time catching on. Because HPV is sexually transmitted, some parents worry that if their kids get the vaccine, they’ll feel as if it is acceptable to have sex.
To counter that, Merck has been running direct-to-consumer ads aimed at educating the public about what HPV is and what it can do, though the company doesn’t name the vaccine by name. The ad has been airing nationally in the US as well as on Hulu.
“Our latest campaign is a continuation of our work to help educate about certain HPV related diseases,” a Merck spokeswoman told Business Insider via email. “Our goal is for parents and caregivers to be informed about HPV and its potential consequences and the CDC recommendations for HPV vaccination, and to be empowered to talk with their children’s health care professional to learn more.”
A newer version of the vaccine called Gardasil 9 was approved in 2014. It covers nine HPV serotypes, or variations within a virus. Earlier versions protected against only two or four serotypes. According to an April 2016 study, Gardasil 9 decreases cancer incidence by 73% (compared with the 63% reduction by the two- and four-serotype versions), while it decreases mortality by 49% (compared with 43%).
Merck said, however, that there seemed to be a gap in understanding how well the vaccine works.
“In a 2015 internet survey conducted by Merck, many parents were unaware of the link between HPV and certain cancers,” the spokeswoman said. “In fact, in the survey of 858 parents, about 85% were familiar with HPV, but only about 50% knew about the link between the virus and cancer.”
But the approach has drawn some negative responses from viewers.
Better watch out, Sarah McLachlan dying puppy commercial, the new & TERRIFYING Hulu HPV commercial is giving you a run for your money.
— Steph Shober (@StephShober) July 1, 2016
Others are getting the guilty vibes from the commercial.
Damn! Could that hpv vaccine commercial try to make parents feel any more guilty!
— Lee Ann (@svnisus) July 11, 2016
Watch the full commercial: