In the wake of the uproar that has engulfed the USA over compulsory vaccination against cervical cancer, Merck & Co says that it is to halt its lobbying campaign to persuade states to make it mandatory that schoolgirls receive Gardasil as a requirement for school attendance.
The debate came to a head recently when the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, announced plans for mandatory vaccination programmes for girls aged 11 and 12 to receive the human papillomavirus vaccine that causes cervical cancer before they can enter the sixth grade at school, beginning September 2008. Criticism of that scheme and other similar proposed programmes has grown over the last three weeks and this has caused Merck to change track.
Richard Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told The Associated Press that "Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil. "We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts."
He noted that two prominent medical groups in the USA that supported broad use of Gardasil, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Family Practitioners, had expressed concern over Merck’s lobbying. “"They, along with some other folks in the public health community, believe there needs to be more time," he told AP, to ensure government funding for the vaccine for uninsured girls is in place and that people have enough information about it. The company will provide such informative if asked, he added.
Opposition to mandatory vaccination has come from a number of sources, with many family and religious groups claiming abstinence and fidelity are the best defence against sexually transmitted diseases like HPV and not a vaccine which they say will lead to a rise in promiscuity. Others have complained about the cost and have accused Merck of profiteering: when Gardasil was launched last June, the catalogue price was $120 per dose and a person needs three doses for protection.
Over in Texas, however, Gov Perry remains unrepentant. He said that "I do not understand why we as a people would not take this opportunity to use this vaccine...to the benefit of our children," adding that “"I do believe with all my heart that it was the right decision."
However the manner that governor came to make that decision has been criticised, given that he employed an executive order, thus bypassing any opposition in the Texas legislature. His critics have also noted that one of Merck's three lobbyists in Texas was Mike Toomey, Gov Perry's former chief of staff and the governor also received funds from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.