Merck Under Fire for Role in State Vaccine Proposals
State efforts that would require girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus are coinciding with a push by the vaccine's manufacturer for states to cover the shots, the Washington Post reports. Human papillomavirus, or HPV, can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and other less common types of oral and genital cancers.
Merck's vaccine, Gardasil, currently is the only HPV vaccine approved by FDA (Gardner, Washington Post, 2/11).
In California, Assembly member Ed Hernandez (D-Baldwin Park) will carry legislation (AB 16) that would require all California girls entering the sixth grade to be immunized against HPV (California Healthline, 2/6).
Similar measures are under consideration in at least 25 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (Uribarri, Los Angeles Times, 2/12).
Merck is lobbying for states to make the vaccination compulsory for girls at the same time that it is encouraging states to purchase the vaccine for health clinics. Wall Street analysts estimate that Merck could gain hundreds of millions of dollars annually from sales of the vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, CDC and U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advocate girls receiving the vaccine, as well as coverage of the vaccine by states and private insurers. However, the groups have refrained from supporting state requirements for the vaccine (Washington Post, 2/11).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has not taken a position on the legislation but included $11.3 million for HPV vaccines in his fiscal year 2007-2008 budget proposal.
The California Department of Health Services to date has distributed 60,000 doses of the vaccine to health care providers and is working to provide an additional 45,000 doses this month (Los Angeles Times, 2/12).
"There is ... something unseemly about a company that stands to make billions of dollars driving a debate" over HPV vaccination laws, a Post editorial states, adding that the "best move Merck can now make is to back off."
Citing ties between Merck and lawmakers in Texas and Virginia, the editorial states that legislators supporting HPV legislation "might want to think about how they can bolster public confidence" in the measures, concluding that "[r]eturning campaign contributions would be a good step" (Washington Post, 2/11).