Merck Suspends Lobbying for Vaccine
By LINDA A. JOHNSON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 7:52 AM
TRENTON, N.J. -- Pediatricians, gynecologists and even health insurers
all call Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, a big
But medical groups, politicians and parents began rebelling after
disclosure of a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by Gardasil's
maker, Merck & Co., to get state legislatures to require 11- and
12-year-old girls to get the three-dose vaccine as a requirement for
Some parents' groups and doctors particularly objected because the
vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted disease, human
papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Vaccines mandated for
school attendance usually are for diseases easily spread through
casual contact, such as measles and mumps.
Bowing to pressure, Merck said Tuesday that it is immediately
suspending its controversial campaign, which it had funded through a
"Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention, and we want to
reach as many females as possible with Gardasil," Dr. Richard M.
Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told The Associated
"We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements
is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our
lobbying efforts," Haupt said, adding the company will continue
providing information about the vaccine if requested by government
Whitehouse Station-based Merck launched Gardasil, the first vaccine to
prevent cervical cancer, in June. It protects against the two virus
strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer and two strains that
cause most genital warts.
Sales totaled $235 million through the end of 2006, according to
Last month, the AP reported that Merck was channeling money for its
state-mandate campaign through Women in Government, an advocacy group
made up of female state legislators across the country.
Conservative groups opposed the campaign, saying it would encourage
premarital sex, and parents' rights groups said it interfered with
their control over their children.
Even two of the prominent medical groups that supported broad use of
the vaccine, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American
Academy of Family Practitioners, questioned Merck's timing, Haupt said
"They, along with some other folks in the public health
community, believe there needs to be more time," he said, to
ensure government funding for the vaccine for uninsured girls is in
place and that families and government officials have enough
information about it.
Legislatures in roughly 20 states have introduced measures that would
mandate girls have the vaccine to attend school, but none has passed
so far. However, Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Feb. 2 issued an executive
order requiring Texas girls entering the sixth grade as of 2008 get
the vaccinations, triggering protests from lawmakers in that state.
Parents there could opt out for their daughters if they state
religious or philosophical objections, but several Texas lawmakers
want to have parents opt in instead of opting out.
Perry defended his order Tuesday, a day after lawmakers in Austin held
a lengthy hearing on the issue but failed to act on a bill to override
Dr. Anne Francis, who chairs an American Academy of Pediatrics
committee that advocates for better insurer reimbursement on vaccines,
called Merck's change of heart "a good move for the
"I believe that their timing was a little bit premature,"
she said, "so soon after (Gardasil's) release, before we have a
picture of whether there are going to be any untoward side
Given that the country has been "burned" by some drugs whose
serious side effects emerged only after they were in wide use,
including Merck's withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, Francis said, it would
be better to wait awhile before mandating Gardasil usage.
She said she also was concerned about requiring a vaccine for a
disease that is not communicable and so does not have a big public
health impact. While doctors expect Gardasil to have a huge effect in
poor countries where women do not get Pap smears, in this country
those tests limit the incidence of cervical cancer to about 9,710 new
cases and 3,700 deaths each year.
The National Vaccine Information Center has been publicizing reports
of side effects _ mostly dizziness and fainting _ in several dozen
people getting Gardasil, which is approved for use in females ages 9
to 26. The center, a group of parents worried that vaccines harm some
children, questions whether the vaccine was tested in enough young
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
however, say that reports of side effects through the end of January
don't raise any red flags.
The vaccine also is controversial because of its price _ $360 for the
three doses required over a six-month stretch. Because of that cost
and what pediatricians and gynecologists say is inadequate
reimbursement by insurers, many are choosing not to stock the vaccine
or requiring surcharges to administer it, increasing the cost for many
families and making the vaccine hard to come by.
Merck shares fell 37 cents to $44.13 in after-hours trading
Tuesday after rising 22 cents to close at $44.50 on the New York Stock