July 20, 2007

CNN's Sanjay Gupta, Laura Bush and the Marketing of Merck's Gardasil

Doctoring the News


CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was raising 
eyebrows five months before he bungled his fact-checking segment on 
Michael Moore's health care documentary, "Sicko," leaving Moore and 
many of CNN's viewers questioning Gupta's journalistic integrity. 
Writing on his CNN blog on February 28, 2007, Dr. Gupta endorsed 
Merck's controversial and scientifically challenged vaccine for girls 
and young women, Gardasil, without shedding any light on the 
incestuous relationship he has with Merck.

"As a doctor, and parent, I would recommend the vaccine for my 
daughters. I feel the ability to protect them in any way, including 
from cancer, is my primary obligation." (1)

The vaccine is being touted by Dr. Gupta, First Lady Laura Bush, and 
nonprofit groups funded by Merck as a means of preventing cervical 
cancer. In fact, however, its clinical trials never tested for 
preventing cervical cancer. The vaccine was tested for preventing pre 
cancerous lesions associated with two strains of Human Papillomavirus 
(HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. Since these lesions can take 
12 to 20 years to develop into cervical cancer and the clinical 
trials lasted less than five years, medical experts warn that the 
jury is still out on what impact this vaccine might have on cervical 
cancer rates.

The results of Merck's clinical trials showed the efficacy of the 
vaccine was "modest," even for preventing pre cancerous lesions, 
among a general population of young women, according to the New 
England Journal of Medicine. (2)

This might have been enough to kill the idea of mass inoculations 
with the vaccine had Merck released its final clinical trial data to 
peer reviewed journals in a timely fashion. Instead, it launched 
three ad and marketing campaigns that fostered the false impression 
that this vaccine had been proven to prevent cervical cancer along 
with a public relations blitz that stretched from California to Paris 
and involved payments to journalists. Only then, after the Food and 
Drug Administration had approved the drug, the Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention had recommended it for broad use, and 
questions grew in the press as to why this "miracle breakthrough" had 
not been peer reviewed, did Merck finally release its late phase 
trial data.

Eleven and twelve year old girls, the very target of proposed 
mandatory vaccination by Merck, were never tested at all for efficacy 
in pre-licensing clinical trials. Merck simply decided that the 
bodies of prepubescent girls would react the same as mature women to 
the vaccine. The FDA was fully aware of this when they licensed the 
vaccine for potentially millions of prepubescent girls, requiring 
only that post licensing studies be done for efficacy and safety on 
these children after they were injected with the drug. (3)

Dr. Gupta began his on-air promotions for Gardasil eight months 
before the vaccine was vetted and approved by the FDA. Here's a 
segment from a "CNN Live Today" broadcast of October 6, 2005:

"GUPTA: The vaccine is called Gardasil, and Merck and Company Inc., 
the manufacturer, says it plans to apply for a license before the end 
of the year. Now, if approved, this vaccine may become extremely 
common, recommended to all women in their teenage years before they 
become sexually active. Rose Dennis had no such option. She had to 
endure a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation to become cancer 
free. For her, and possibly thousands of others, a vaccine would make 
all the difference." (4)

Dr. Gupta continued over the ensuing months to promote Gardasil. 
Here's an excerpt from the "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" broadcast on 
June 29, 2006:

"GUPTA: Now there is a way to prevent the virus from ever taking hold 
in the first place. It's a vaccine. Typically, you think of vaccines 
for the measles or chicken pox. But Gardasil protects you against 
cancer. Trials showed the vaccine could lower cervical cancer rates 
by 70 percent." (5)

The clinical trials for Gardasil showed no such thing. (6) Even Merck 
is not making this wild and unsupported claim.

On May 17, 2007, CNN aired an interview between Dr. Gupta and First 
Lady Laura Bush. (7) Video Clip. The First Lady endorses mass 
inoculations of children with Gardasil on the basis that it will 
protect them later in life against cervical cancer. Gupta does not 
challenge her on the fact that there is zero evidence that the 
vaccine provides such long-term protection. The vaccine's own 
researcher acknowledges this. (8)

Would any of the following information have been relevant for Dr. 
Gupta or the First Lady to share with CNN viewers in discussing a 
vaccine planned for mass inoculations of children: according to 
Merck's SEC filing 11 days prior to this broadcast, the company is 
facing a criminal investigation by the Bush administration's U.S. 
Department of Justice over Vioxx marketing; a scheme that concealed 
tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes caused by its last 
blockbuster drug, Vioxx. Additionally, the company reported it "has 
also been named as a defendant in separate lawsuits brought by the 
Attorneys General of Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Texas 
and Utah. These actions allege that the Company misrepresented the 
safety of Vioxx." (9)

Perhaps Dr. Gupta was reluctant to bring up the subject of Vioxx, 
given his early dismissal of the dangers.

Here's how he responded to Miles O'Brien on CNN's "American Morning" 
on October 30, 2003:

"Miles O'Brien: Let's talk about Vioxx. Some indication it might 
increase the risk of heart attack?

"Gupta: This stat has been around since August of 2001. They talked 
about the increase of heart attack with Vioxx. The numbers are very 
small. Perhaps a small percentage increase in the overall risk of 
heart attacks with Vioxx. They say 37 percent to 39 percent but 
that's of a very small number. After 90 days, no increased risk." (10 

It's difficult to imagine a statement more riddled with factual 
inaccuracies. And where did Dr. Gupta get his information? He tells 
us in the interview: "We've talked to the makers of Vioxx, the Merck 

The overarching issue in all of this is the dangerous and growing 
tentacles of a corporate agenda that seeks to control every message 
pertaining to its corporate brands in every venue visited or medium 
viewed by a consumer. That includes TV and cable news. Increasingly, 
corporations demand "integration" for their advertising dollars.

Dr. Gupta is part of this new wave of "integration" as co-host of a 
program called AccentHealth. Here's how the AccentHealth website 
explains itself: (11)

"AccentHealth is America 's #1 integrated health media company 
offering advertisers multiple consumer touch points in the place 
where health matters most -- the doctors office. AccentHealth's 
waiting room TV network produced by CNN and hosted by CNN's Dr. 
Sanjay Gupta and Robin Meade, reaches 132 million viewers annually in 
185 Nielsen Markets...To complement your broadcast message, and the 
consumer focused product information you can provide in our 10,800 
offices, AccentHealth offers another channel into the physician's 
office -- a unique fax program that can help you strengthen your 
physician relationships...Reinforce product credibility through the 
"Halo Effect..." How would you like to see your product on our show? 
AccentHealth runs frequent on-air promotions to engage viewers and 
ensure more focused viewing...Our healthy mascot "Abby Apple" has 
been reminding our viewers to lead a healthy lifestyle for 4 years! 
Abby can appear on-air using your product... AccentHealth is 
committed to meeting your campaign expectations. With an audience of 
receptive, health conscious consumers and a direct line into the 
physician's office we will customize your AccentHealth initiative to 
meet your specific brand goals...Use our production facilities to 
create a custom message for our unique environment...Let us organize 
a consumer event to coincide with your AccentHealth on-air 

In a January 17, 2007 interview with TV Week, Greg D'Alba, Chief 
Operating Officer of CNN ad sales and marketing, explained what's 
driving "integration." "What's interesting is it's not about what's 
new anymore, but what's becoming the norm...For every fully 
integrated package that we present there is an advertiser. We're 
batting 1,000 percent on that. And it's not because we're developing 
it and throwing it out there and we're finding sponsors, it's because 
our advertisers and our partners are requesting it, they're demanding 
it." (12)

Given the incestuous nature of "integration," should Dr. Sanjay Gupta 
have revealed to his CNN viewers during his extolling of the virtues 
of Gardasil that its manufacturer, Merck, was a financial sponsor of 
this integrated marketing scheme he co-hosts at AccentHealth? And 
exactly who prepared and vetted the First Lady's whopper on Gardasil? 
Should the First Lady have been commenting at all on a product from a 
company under criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of 
Justice? Inquiring minds not yet "integrated" want to know.

Pam Martens previously worked on Wall Street for 21 years. (She has 
no stock position, long or short, in Merck or any pharmaceutical 
company.) She resides in New Hampshire and writes on topics that 
impact the public interest. Ms. Martens can be reached at 
[log in to unmask]


Blog of February 28, 2007:

(2) <>New England 
Journal of Medicine Editorial:

(3) <>FDA Approval 
Letter; see numbered paragraph 1.

(4) CNN Transcript; 
on Gardasil: October 6, 2005

(5) CNN Transcript; 
on Gardasil: June 29, 2006

(6) New England Journal of Medicine 
<>Editorial on 

(7) Gupta interviews 
Bush on Gardasil:

(8) HPV researcher corrects 

(9) Merck's 
SEC Filing:

(10) CNN Transcript: 
on Vioxx; October 30, 2003

(11) AccentHealth <>Web Site:

(12) TV Week interview with 
<>Greg D'Alba: