Harvard Health Letter

The top 10 health stories of 2006

Vaccines figure prominently on our top 10 list in 2006. The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) should mean that many thousands of women won't get cervical cancer caused by HPV infections — millions fewer, if the vaccine is made available in the developing world where it's needed most. Shingles isn't a killer, but it's a misery maker. The new shingles vaccine could cut the number of people affected by the disease in half.

Conspicuous in its absence: An AIDS vaccine. 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of the known AIDS epidemic. In richer countries, treatment drugs, now consolidated into a single pill for many people, have transformed AIDS into a manageable disease. But lack of a vaccine is one of the main reasons the epidemic spread so rapidly in Africa.

One troubling trend is the increasing cost of vaccines. The HPV vaccine, a three-shot series, is priced at $360. Vaccines have been held up as one of public health's real bargains, proof of every proverb about the value of prevention. It will be tragic if they become a luxury item, so the well-to-do can buy protection while the less fortunate must take their chances. Too much of the world works that way already.

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