Gardasil: A "leap of faith"?

A story in today’s WSJ questions Gardasil’s efficacy:

But behind the scenes, Gardasil has been dogged by uncertainty about how effective it really is. Merck won approval for the vaccine based on research that showed it protected against two strains of the human papillomavirus, known as HPV 16 and 18, that are thought to cause 70% of cervical-cancer cases. The Food and Drug Administration didn’t ask its panel of experts advising on Gardasil to rule on whether the vaccine specifically prevented the cancer itself. In clinical trials, 361 of 8,817 women who received at least one shot of Gardasil went on to develop precancerous lesions on their cervixes within three years of vaccination, just 14% fewer than in a placebo control group.

Scott Emerson, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington who sat on the FDA advisory committee, says he’s not persuaded the vaccine is worth the billions of dollars likely to be spent on it in coming years. “I do believe that Gardasil protects against HPV 16 and 18, but the effect it will have on cervical-cancer rates in this country is another question entirely,” says Dr. Emerson. “There is a leap of faith involved.”