Saturday, February 3, 2007

Your Teenage Daughter = $$$$ To Merck And Bankrolled Lobbying

So are you all ready to line up your daughters and hand them to the drug companies? Texas Governor Rick Perry already has. He ordered that schoolgirls in Texas must be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus, human papillomavirus (HPV), which is believed to cause cervical cancer. This makes Texas the first state to require the shots. Michigan has already narrowly defeated a similar measure.

Legislation has been introduced here in CT by State Rep. Debra Lee Hovey (R-Monroe) that would require all girls in Connecticut to receive an HPV shot as well, by proposing this:
"the general statutes be amended to require that the human papilloma virus vaccination be included in the adolescent vaccination schedule."

Please recall that people thought Thalidomide was great too. We all know that just because the FDA blesses a drug that it doesn’t make it safe or effective. Many Americans are suffering or have died as a result of Vioxx and other drugs we have heard reported in the news. Lawsuits continue to flood the courts over them. Can our government and the FDA assure us that this new vaccine is completely safe? Side effects have been reported, but do we understand what they are? I believe that there has been an alarming lack of research on this vaccine and we have not heard anything about the long term effects such as infertility, or whether this vaccine can cause birth defects or disrupt the auto-immune system. The FDA only just approved this vaccine in June, 2006. The duration of this vaccine has only been followed for about 4 years, and it has only been followed on women, ages 16-26.

Are you all aware of what is really going on here? Well, let’s just follow the money, because it isn’t just about “the well being of our daughters”. Let’s push aside all of the rhetoric about this marvelous new drug and how "it is really important that we protect our young women to the absolute best of our ability." Let’s take a hard and long look at what is at stake here for Merck. First and foremost, Merck is bankrolling all of these efforts to pass HPV vaccination laws in state legislatures across the country mandating its product, Gardasil, for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled gobs of money through Women in Government, which is an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country. They don’t even deny it. As a result, many of the bills around the country have been introduced by members of Women in Government. CT’s State Representative Debra Lee Hovey is their treasurer. While she is most likely acting from good intentions, I think she needs to do some more research on this vaccine. At the very least let's not jump the gun and make this vaccination mandatory in CT.

Merck would not say exactly how much money the company is spending on lobbyists or how much it has donated to Women in Government, but they have admitted to the funding. Legislators across the country have also received campaign donations directly from Merck in this past election cycle. Of course, Merck will make billions of dollars in sales if Gardasil vaccines are required for school girls across the country, far more money than was needed to buy legislator votes to make it mandatory. And now we are seeing the fruits of their labors. Bills for mandatory vaccinations are popping up in legislatures across this land that will make our daughters their targets, and Merck's profits soar. I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly disgusting.

One might be interested to know that GlaxoSmithKline was fighting to get FDA approval ahead of Merck. It would be interesting to find out if Merck influenced the FDA to obtain approval first and who stood to gain from obtaining that approval. There are several limitations on Merck’s vaccine that have been reported. Getting the vaccine will not entirely protect anyone from getting cervical cancer and it will not protect women against all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer. The vaccine only covers FOUR types of HPV, two of which cause genital warts and the other two are thought to cause cervical cancers. Only sexually active people get HPV, and yet they are recommending that the vaccine be administered to female children under age 12. They claim that they should be protected before becoming sexually active. However, the vaccine is only good for a maximum of 4 years! Women who get the vaccine still have to get regular pap smears done. The vaccine is only approved for women up to 26 years of age. Apparently they have not yet found a cost effective titer to determine if a person needs to be revaccinated, and really don’t know if or when booster shots should be given. What they do tell us is that it’ll cost consumers $360 for the three-shot regimen.

Quite unfortunately no one is pointing out that the vast majority of the cervical cancer cases each year occur in women who don’t have pap smears done or that fail to, or can’t get medical care. Never mind mandating that our 12 year olds are vaccinated with some new cocktail of chemicals that may or may not be effective after 4 years, but how about we do something really meaningful like making pap tests free and accessible to all women. I’ll wager that we will see the cervical cancer rate drop significantly. Why in heavens name would we be vaccinating girls who aren’t sexually active and perhaps won’t be until much later in their life. Such girls do still exist.

The equally distressing thing about this legislation is “government mandates”. Why is the government making legislation on this issue? If legislation allows for the opting out of these vaccinations then why not make it an option all together when you go to the doctor? Why the push to make it mandatory? Well, we all know it’s because of the money. Making the vaccine "Required" is nicely tucked into legislation so that the taxpayers can pick up the cost for citizens who don’t have the $360, or insurance, to cover the cost of it. What a boon to Merck. It is so clear why Merck wants their vaccine mandated by every state. On June 5th, Fortune Magazine writer John Simons reported Merck would make $2-$4 billion dollars annually if the vaccine is mandated by the States!

Texas allows parents to opt out of inoculations by filing an affidavit stating that he or she objected to the vaccine for religious or philosophical reasons. I would hope that this would be the case in CT as well, but I just cannot see this being made into a government mandate to begin with. The vaccine should be available for parents who want it, but not forced on those who don't. The schools and the government should not be the primary medical decision maker for us, or for our children. Pharmaceutical companies’ profits should not take precedence over the authorities of parents, or the health of our daughters.

Merck bankrolling legislators and legislation lobbying just about sums it up.
In this case corporate greed has gone too far. They can simply make the vaccine available, they do not have to make it mandatory. Now, as Merck says in their about you "Tell Someone".

As an aside, you can read some interesting blog posts regarding HPV vaccines and bio-ethics here.

- read more by Susan over at Corn and Oil.

Update: if you don't read this post at Agurah then at least check out these reports:
Gardisil Vaccine Not Proven Safe and
National Vaccine Adverse Reporting