The two companies that make vaccines against cervical cancer announced Thursday that they would cut their prices to the world’s poorest countries below $5 per dose, eventually making it possible for millions of girls to be protected against a major cancer killer.
Because of Pap tests, fatal cervical cancers are almost unknown today in rich countries. But the disease kills an estimated 275,000 women a year in poor countries where Pap tests are impractical and the vaccine is far too expensive for the average woman to afford, so the price cut could lead to a significant advance in women’s health.
The World Health Organization, which has been pressing for faster progress in maternal health, greeted the news as ‘‘a great step forward for women and girls.’’
When the new price was described, Dr. Paul D. Blumenthal, a professor of gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine who has pioneered cervical cancer prevention techniques in poor countries, said, ‘‘Mazel tov!’’
The lower prices — $4.50 for Merck’s Gardasil vaccine and $4.60 for GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix — were negotiated through the GAVI Alliance, which was created in 1999 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver more vaccines to the world’s poor.
Gardasil and Cervarix, given to girls as young as 9, have caused controversy in the United States, where many parents fear side effects and worry that girls will see the vaccines as condoning sex at a young age.
The vast majority of girls in the United States have not been inoculated.