Hong Kong’s HPV Vaccine Shortage Created a ‘Priceline’ Marketplace

HPV vaccines offered at authorized pharmacies and most physician offices in the USA

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Hong Kong vaccine experts are reporting online vendors are profiteering from Chinese women seeking Merck’s Gardasil 9-valent Humanpapolovis Virus (HPV) vaccine, to prevent cervical cancer.   

And, according to reporting by China.org.CN, Gardasil 9 vaccination appointments are now offered at high prices at doctors offices and some hospitals. 

This unapproved marketplace in Hong Kong began during October 2017, when Gardasil 9 became ‘temporarily on limited supply’ in China. At that time, Merck, Gardasil’s manufacturer, said they ‘expect this vaccine shortage to continue through July 2018.’ 

This led thousands of Chinese women to seek HPV vaccinations in Hong Kong, causing price increases and supply shortages, reported the Financial Times (FT). 

According to China.org reporting, Hong Kong hospitals have either stopped taking appointments or introduced waiting lists. 

A customer service employee for Beijing Baodao Healthcare said ‘at least 3,000 people are on its registration roster awaiting HPV vaccination.’ 

"We don't know when the next batch of the 9-valent HPV vaccine will arrive or the number of vaccine doses we will receive in the future," the hospital employee said to China.org. 

To meet this pent-up demand, online agencies have started offering vaccination appointments at inflated prices. 

The approved Gardasil 9 vaccine costs around 4,000 yuan (US$582) for a complete treatment of 3 shots at public hospitals and about 5,500 yuan at a private institution, according to Hong Kong disease prevention and control authorities. 

But, the price quoted for the same inoculation booked through online vendors is almost 10,000 yuan. 

Another Baodao Healthcare hospital employee said, "Don't trust online vendors. They could be fraudsters." 

All 9-valent HPV vaccines in China are imported from pharmaceutical company Merck, so tight supplies have affected the whole country, including Beijing, said Yao Xiujun, deputy director of the Beijing Health Commission's department in charge of protecting the general public. 

"The supply strain is expected to ease." 

Yao Xiujun’s comment may be related to Merck’s November 2018 promise to almost quadruple the supply of Gardasil 9 vaccine in China, reported FiercePharma.   

Merck said it will distribute 5.51 billion Chinese yuan (US$790 million) worth of the Gardasil products to China in 2019 and 8.33 billion yuan (US$1.20 billion) in 2020, according to a recent disclosure from Merck’s China distribution partner, Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products. 

But, that still might not be enough to meet the full demand, a Merck representative said to FiercePharma.   

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This comment may be related to the October 8, 2018 announcement by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, which said starting the 2019/20 school year, eligible female primary school students of suitable ages will be provided with HPV vaccine under the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme (HKCIP). 

Previously, the free HKCIP did not include the HPV vaccine.   

In the USA, there does not appear to be a Gardasil 9 vaccine shortage. 

As of November 2018, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the HPV vaccine was not listed as ‘Delay or Shortage.   

But that may change in the USA. 

Since the Gardasil 9 vaccine has the potential to prevent 31,200 cancer cases every year, the US Food and Drug Administration decided during October 2018 to expand its availability for both women and men, aged 27 through 45 years. 

HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, says the CDC. 

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. 

But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.  

HPV cancers include cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. An HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. 

HPV vaccines can be found in most authorized pharmacies and physician offices in the USA. 

To schedule a vaccination appointment, please visit this page. 

The CDC Vaccine Price List provides HPV vaccine prices for general information. And vaccine discounts can be found here. 

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, says the CDC. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of vaccines to the FDA or CDC.