RSS
How Michael Douglas' epic humble brag could help Big Pharma
The actor unwittingly may have raised awareness about HPV — as well as a vaccine made by Merck
 
The Return of the Mack is possibly good news for Merck.
The Return of the Mack is possibly good news for Merck. Getty Images/Andreas Rentz

Michael Douglas, while promoting HBO's Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra this weekend, told The Guardian that he did not get throat cancer from heavy drinking and smoking. "Without wanting to get too specific," the actor said, "this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus."

Skipping over the usual obligatory lines about sexual health and cancer awareness, Douglas went on to joke that cunnilingus was not only the cause of his type of throat cancer, but also the cure. "That's right," he said. "It giveth and it taketh."

Another known antidote to HPV (Human papillomavirus) — one approved by science — is Gardasil, a vaccine made by the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co that protects against four strands of HPV: Two that cause cancer and two that cause genital warts. Though Gardasil made Merck $1.62 billion last year, most Americans still have not been vaccinated. Think Progress explains:

Even though it's not effective for adults Douglas' age, the HPV vaccine — commonly known as Gardasil — is an important part of the conversation about STDs, cancer, and sexual health. Gardasil is extremely effective at protecting young people from contracting the virus, particularly if young children first begin receiving dosages at the age of 11. That's why government health officials recommend that all girls and boys should receive their Gardasil shots while they're teenagers. But most Americans aren't following that advice. [Think Progress]

In fact, just 30 percent of women have received one or more doses of the vaccine, which is administered in three doses. Part of the reason for the low rate, says Think Progress, is that "the vaccine has been politically contentious over the past several years. Far-right figures like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) have peddled conspiracy theories that Gardasil could lead to mental retardation, or encourage young girls to become wildly promiscuous."

Cancers caused by HPV have been on the rise for the last ten years in the U.S. The virus, which affects four out of five sexually active people at some point in their lives, is known to cause cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, and anal cancer, and may lead to more cases of throat cancer in men than smoking.

So will Douglas' comments lead to more awareness, more vaccines, and, in turn, more profits for Merck? It remains to be seen, but already health care officials are taking the opportunity to talk about vaccinating more people — especially boys.

"I very strongly believe we should be vaccinating boys," said Anne Szarewski, clinical consultant and honorary senior lecturer at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. "By only vaccinating women, we're implying that it's not a problem for men. It's a sexually transmitted virus, both men and women are involved, and we should be vaccinating both."

And it may be worth mentioning that Merck's stock price is up almost 4 percent since the interview.

 
Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week