Merck Suspends Lobbying for Vaccine

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By LINDA A. JOHNSON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 7:52 AM

TRENTON, N.J. -- Pediatricians, gynecologists and even health insurers all call Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, a big medical advance.

But medical groups, politicians and parents began rebelling after disclosure of a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by Gardasil's maker, Merck & Co., to get state legislatures to require 11- and 12-year-old girls to get the three-dose vaccine as a requirement for school attendance.

Some parents' groups and doctors particularly objected because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted disease, human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Vaccines mandated for school attendance usually are for diseases easily spread through casual contact, such as measles and mumps.

Bowing to pressure, Merck said Tuesday that it is immediately suspending its controversial campaign, which it had funded through a third party.

"Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention, and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil," Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told The Associated Press.

"We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts," Haupt said, adding the company will continue providing information about the vaccine if requested by government officials.

Whitehouse Station-based Merck launched Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, in June. It protects against the two virus strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer and two strains that cause most genital warts.

Sales totaled $235 million through the end of 2006, according to Merck.

Last month, the AP reported that Merck was channeling money for its state-mandate campaign through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators across the country.

Conservative groups opposed the campaign, saying it would encourage premarital sex, and parents' rights groups said it interfered with their control over their children.

Even two of the prominent medical groups that supported broad use of the vaccine, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Family Practitioners, questioned Merck's timing, Haupt said Tuesday.

"They, along with some other folks in the public health community, believe there needs to be more time," he said, to ensure government funding for the vaccine for uninsured girls is in place and that families and government officials have enough information about it.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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