Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Goes Into A New Law?

By now, you've read about the mini-controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine, in particular about how states across the nation are mandating a vaccination for girls 12 and up:
The girls will have to get Merck & Co.'s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.

Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating it Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.
Take close note of that "Merck is bankrolling..." part.

Here in New York State, Merck is lobbying the state Assembly and Senate hard to pass similar legislation. However, to quote an e-mail passed on to me from a former president of the New York chapter of NOW, "According to the NYS Board of Elections, Paulin, Silver, Bruno, and other legislators accepted hefty campaign contributions from Merck. According to the same source, Friedricke Merck contributed thousands of campaign dollars to David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer. The Albany Times Union reports that Spitzer is asking for millions of state dollars to purchase the HPV vaccine. There are very serious ethical questions being raised here, not to mention serious health concerns for girls."

Those risks are outlined by the "National Vaccine Information Center as follows:
GARDASIL safety appears to have been studied in fewer than 2,000 girls aged 9 to 15 years and it is unclear how long they were followed up. VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] is now receiving reports of loss of consciousness, seizures, arthritis and other neurological problems in young girls who have received the shot," said NVIC President Barbara Loe Fisher. "At the same time, parents who take their daughters to private pediatricians are going to be shocked to find that they will be paying two to three times the widely publicized $360 cost for the three-dose series. The cost is going to break the pocketbooks of parents and break the banks of both insurance companies and taxpayers, when the reality is that almost all cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer can be prevented with annual pap screening of girls who are sexually active."
In addition, most insurance companies and HMOs have chosen not to reimburse for the vaccine, meaning that patients will be out of pocket the full $360, moreover meaning that the girls who most need the vaccine would be unable to get it anyway, even if it's efficacy and safety were not in doubt.

None of this calls into question the effectiveness of the vaccine, mind you, except of course that no long term studies have been done to see if, in fact, it is effective either in the immediate term or over time.

And of course, there's the olbigatory disinformation campaign being waged by Big Pharma. From the same e-mail, "Merck and other big Pharma Companies have invented a "third party" front group, known as Women in Government (WIG).

To date, WIG has received over $5.7 Million in the four-year period of 2002 - 2005 from Merck (HPV vaccine maker), GlaxoSmithKline (HPV vaccine maker), Digene (HPV test) and essentially every other major pharmaceutical company. And it is this front group that is introducing legislation to mandate this vaccine in states across the country, including New York. While calling itself, Women in Government, and boasting that its members are bi-partisan elected state representatives, it draws the line at public disclosure of how much it's received from Merck and Big Pharma."

None of this would be as big a concern...after all, this vaccine does seem to work and was approved by the FDA...if it wasn't for another drug that Merck is known for: Vioxx:
On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term, high-dosage use. Rofecoxib was one of the most widely used drugs ever to be withdrawn from the market. In the year before withdrawal, Merck had sales revenue of US$2.5 billion from Vioxx.
Withdrawn, but only after leaked internal memos indicated that, in fact, Merck knew about these dangerous side-effects, all while waging a public campaign about its safety.

Pass this story along to people. See if your legislators are under pressure from Merck to pass a mandatory HPV inoculation statute. This needs some sunlight.