Thursday, February 22, 2007

More News on HPV, Merck Donations To Lobbyists, And CT's Public Health Committee Hearing

I attended the CT State Legislature's Public Health Committee meeting yesterday (02/21/07) regarding the bill HB 6977 which would mandate HPV vaccination of all girls before entering 6th grade. SB 86 was also on the docket. It looked to me like they will NOT be mandating the HPV vaccine here in CT - of course the session is not over until it is over.

First up to testify was James Hadler, who heads the CT Public Health Department's infectious disease division. He said that the experience with the vaccine is still limited and advised lawmakers to hold off before making the vaccine a requirement for school entry. He also said "Some vaccines have been shown to have unanticipated side effects when they go into wide use during the first year,". So clearly, even they aren't ready to rush into this.

There did seem to be many on the panel who were dead set against making it mandatory for various reasons. Members of the public health committee do not seem to keen on making this mandatory mostly because it is too new..and expensive.. and because HPV is not like an airborne illness like measles or mumps. Being that this is sexually transmitted, they didn't feel as if it had the same urgency, or even the requirements, to make it mandatory for school attendance.

They did however say that if it were ever to be made mandatory that they would have to rethink "opt out" options, such that this particular kind of vaccine should have some sort of parental consent or ability to opt out based on ethical reasons, not just religious or medical reasons. What was disconcerting to me was that despite really bad drugs like Vioxx being given clearance to come to the marketplace, some on the committee unfortunately still have faith in the FDA, the CDC, and the AMA, and still hold very high what these organizations have to say. I wonder if they have thought that they themselves (on the Public Health Committee) might ever be held liable for making drugs mandated that could be damaging to our children!!

Committee members have been getting tons of emails about this bill and the HPV vaccine (and people should continue to write to them!) which shows them the level of concern. Members seem to have been doing lots of reading on this issue. I personally testified at the hearing and I think I got some salient points across as well.

State Rep. Debra Lee Hovey, from Monroe, came out to testify in support of it, and no doubt will push to get it passed.. she is Treasurer of Women in Government. Some people have raised an eyebrow over this connection especially since Merck has bankrolled lobbying efforts through this organization. This article from CBS News just about shows the smoking gun in Texas.

While Merck may have backed off of their lobbying - the damage has been done - they still achieved their goal of getting these women legislators to submit proposed legislation nationally..and we'll have to wait and see what all these other states do. It has been rejected in Maryland, Utah and Michigan already. Texas is fighting the executive order that Gov. Rick Perry issued. People are furious that he by-passed his own legislature to mandate this vaccine.

As for here in CT - I hope that the bill dies in committee and my message remains: keep writing to your legislators.

Reason magazine offers another excellent article on this issue.

UPDATE: News article from the Hartford Courant is here.
The article brings out the controversy surrounding Rep. Hovey's affiliation with Women In Government, the group being bankrolled by Merck to push this legislation.