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News of the Day ... In Perspective

2/4/2007

Merck lobbyists work for HPV vaccine mandates; Texas governor bypasses legislature

As was predicted by parental rights advocates, the “recommendation” of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil) was immediately followed by legislative proposals to force 11-year-old girls to receive the vaccine as a condition of school attendance.

Merck, which could make $1 billion per year in sales from mandatory Gardasil, is not only funding lobbyists but funneling money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female legislators. A top official from Merck’s vaccine division sits on the Women in Government business council. The company refused to disclose the amount of money it has donated to that group or has spent on lobbying.

Laws are proposed in at least 18 states, including California, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas. The bill was narrowly defeated in Michigan. Gov. Rick Perry decided to override the Texas legislature, issuing Executive Order RP65 (Boston Herald 1/30/07). The Order requires girls entering sixth grade, generally aged 11 to 12, to receive Gardasil.

The Executive Order stands until Perry or a successor changes it. The legislature has no authority to repeal it.

“He’s circumventing the will of the people,” said Dawn Richardson, president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education. “There are bills filed. There is no emergency except in the boardrooms of Merck, where this is failing to gain the support they expected.”

A live vote by MSNBC News showed that 65 percent said “No, parents should decide whether or not their daughters are vaccinated” in response to the question “Should a state require that schoolgirls get the shot against human papillomavirus?” Only 32% said “Yes, the vaccine is best for girls’ health,” with more than 25,000 responses tallied.

Although there is a provision for parents to opt out for religious or philosophical reasons, parents complain that the Order interferes with their right to make medical decisions for their children, noted the Alliance for Human Research Protection.

The Executive Order requires the Department of State Health Services to make the HPV vaccine available through the Texas Vaccines for Children program for “eligible young females” up to age 18, and the Health and Human Services Commission to make the vaccine available to “Medicaid-eligible young females” from age 19 to 21.

Pediatricians and gynecologists have been refusing to stock Gardasil because of the $360 price for three doses and “totally inadequate insurance reimbursement.” Most will give patients a prescription to get filled and bring back, but the cost to the patient is far more (AP 2/3/07).

According to the National Vaccine Information Center, a survey of pediatric practices in Virginia revealed that parents could be charged between $525 and $930 for the series of shots.

According to the National Network for Immunization Information (NNII) director Martin Myers, “many of us are concerned that a mandate may be premature, and it’s important for people to realize that this is not as clear-cut as with some previous vaccines.” Although Myers says he’s enthusiastic about Gardasil, “It’s not the vaccine community that’s pushing for this” (Immunization News 2/1/07).

Gardasil is not approved for use in boys, so it cannot be marketed for this use, though physicians can prescribe it. It is hoped that Gardasil may prevent anal cancer in homosexual men. An efficacy trial is in progress; however, it is “complicated by the fact that gay men…may contract HPV after only a few encounters.” It has been “difficult for researchers to find gay men who have had only a few sexual partners,” said Dr. Joel Palefsky of the University of California San Francisco (ibid.).

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