Saturday, February 10, 2007

More about Merck's- Help Pay for Vioxx

News reports about Merck's aggressive marketing campaign aimed at obtaining state government mandates forcing 11 and 12 year old girls to be vaccinated with its Human Pappilomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, is the latest example of irresponsible marekting targetting America's female population. Another is the recruitment of female students at university campuses who are asked to enroll as human subjects in an experimental Herpes vaccine trial co-sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. . Below is a form letter sent out to all female students at the Unviersity of Maryland offering $358. Since doctors agree that condoms are the safest and most effective protection against sexually transmitted diseases-- Why are only females being sought for risky experimental vaccine trials?

Gardasil is touted as prevention for cervical cancer which Merck says is the second-leading cancer among women around the world. But as The Wall Street Journal reports (below) the prevalence of cervical cancer is actually low in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that 11,150 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,670 will die from it in the U.S. this year. That's equivalent to 0.77% of cancers diagnosed in the U.S. and 0.65% of U.S. cancer deaths each year. By comparison, the society estimates that 178,480 American women will get diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and 40,460 will die from it.

These numbers underscore Merck's strictly commercial motivaiton: Gardasil's price tag is exorbitant-three shots at $360 each-is being forced on American children-not because they are at particular risk-but rather to ensure that the company profits hugely. So what is the justification for even considering mandatory vaccination of children?

Since 80% of cervical cancer occurs in underdeveloped countries, clearly, those who might benefit the most are denied access because they can't afford the vaccine. The WSJ confirms that Merck is "desperate" for funding streams and "vaccination across the U.S. would make Gardasil an automatic blockbuster." The campaign has been dubbed: "Help pay for Vioxx" litigation.

Inexplicably, influential media sources have demonstrated a blind willingness to accept without evidence, unsubstantiated promises about a new vaccine from a company whose ignoble record of fraudulent claims and illegal marketing of a lethal drug caused thousands of preventable deaths. Prominent among these is The New York Times which rendered its position on the side of commerce in an editorial (below) reflecting a faith-based belief rather than a critical appraisal of evidence. Not only does the editorial endorse Merck's vaccine for all preteen girls, it offered "congratulations to Texas for becoming the first state to REQUIRE vaccinating young schoolgirls-ages 11 and 12"-even as it acknowledges that "many parents are appalled at the notion of vaccinating such young girls against a sexually transmitted disease."

"GARDASIL has not been shown to protect against disease due to non-vaccine HPV types.The health-care provider should inform the patient, parent, or guardian that vaccination does not substitute for routine cervical cancer screening. Women who receive GARDASIL should continue to undergo cervical cancer screening per standard of care." [Link]

Gardasil will not prevent cancer--it does not protect against ALL HPV types [e.g., 31, 33, 35] . The vaccine will merely result in a change of prevalent serotypes.

"Tina Walker, the mother of an 11-year-old girl in Flower Mound, Texas, told The Wall Street Journal that she would prefer to wait until the vaccine has been on the market for several years before subjecting her child to it. "We are the guinea pigs here," she says.

Under what moral authority do the editors of New York Times decree that Tina Walker's rights as a responsible parent should be nullified-and her daughter exposed to potential harm by a company that has a proven record of concealing the lethal hazards of its products?

The Times editors would do well to examine how often the Times got it wrong when it endorsed any number of medical treatments that proved harmful. For example, on November 18, 1994, Times health columnist, Jane E. Brody, gave a ringing endorsement to hormone replacement therapy (New Therapy For Menopause Reduces Risks, [Link]), reporting that it protects women "not only against the risk of uterine cancer but heart attacks as well." In time, these claims were overturned by science-but not before untold number of women died as a result of bad medical advice.

Furthermore, Merck does not deserve our trust in disclosing all we need to know about its products. Merck marketed Vioxx as an effective, safer alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of pain associated with osteoarthritis, but-as its secret documents later uncovered during litigation revealed--Merck concealed the fact that Vioxx increased the risk of cardiovascular disease. What guarantee do we have that Gardasil is not another Merck hoax?

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