Merck began marketing Gardasil in 2006 as a medicine that will prevent HPV infections leading to cervical cancer. Since the marketing began both the effectiveness and the actual safety of the drug have been called into question. Gardasil was commonly described as “100% effective.” However, if you look far enough into the research, you will find the vaccine is 100% effective only against a few strains of HPV that causes cervical cancer. Those strains are associated with approximately 70% of the cervical cancer cases. The vaccine has no effect on the viral strains which account for the other 30%.
The three-shot Gardasil regimen costs $360! Compare this to a $30 pap smear which has proven effective in preventing most cases of cervical cancer. Thanks to this relatively simple and inexpensive test, the National Institute of Health lists cervical cancer as a “rare disease.”
When Merck was about to obtain FDA approval of Gardasil, it went to work, trying to make the new vaccination mandatory across the United States for girls between certain ages. As the Wall Street Journal explained in 2007, “mandatory vaccination across the United States would make an automatic blockbuster for Merck at a time when the patents on some of its best selling drugs are expiring and it is desperate to replace the revenue streams.”
Even before Gardasil was approved by the FDA, Merck funded an elaborate television and magazine campaign which stressed the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. The “tell someone” ads depicted mothers with arms around their daughters expressing surprise as they learn how many people are infected by HPV. Merck’s logo would flash briefly on the screen with no mention that it had a product on the way. Many women thought they were watching a public service announcement.
These ads exaggerated the threat of the HPV and cervical cancer. While the vast majority of sexually-active women can expect to be infected by HPV at some point during their lives, most of these infections clear up without doing harm. Merck also launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to persuade politicians that every 12- and 13-year-old girl in the United States should be vaccinated and that the states should pay for it. Far from a campaign to save women’s lives, it is a campaign to increase sales.
Even one of the lead researchers on the Gardasil clinical trials, Dr. Diane Harper, has questioned Merck about its efforts in marketing. Dr. Harper was quoted as saying “Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politician, and went directly to the people – it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now.”
A lead researcher in the HPV vaccine development, Dr. Harper, recently astonished her peers at the 4th International Public Conference on Vaccination in October 2008. Dr. Harper commented that the rate of cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV, was already so low and so treatable that vaccinations would effectively do nothing to lower the incidence rate. According to Dr. Harper, the vaccine seems to be unnecessary. Dr. Harper also informed the audience that Merck had never conducted any safety or efficacy trials in girls under 15 years old and that vaccinating young girls en masse amounted to “a great big public health experiment.”
While Congress is debating healthcare in Washington, perhaps a closer look at the drug industry would be in order. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and safer to set up a program that ensures all girls and women are screened with a pap smear regularly? While the vaccine protects against 70% of all cervical cancers, pap smears detect 90 – 95%. Dr. Evan R. Myers, a doctor at Duke University (who has served as a consultant to Merck), has been quoted as saying that “if we had true universal screening – as in some Scandinavian countries – we probably wouldn’t need both the vaccine and screening.”
In the meantime, Merck has lobbied hard to have governments and physicians vaccinate all women ages nine – 26. There have been many adverse events reported as a result of Gardasil vaccine including dizziness, fainting, paralysis, acute onset rheumatoid arthritis, and even deaths.
Sources: www.healthbeatblog.org and Associated Press
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