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Conflict of Interest

ve8QAd   |   January 31, 2007

You’ve probably heard of Gardasil. It’s a vaccine, developed by the drug conglomerate Merck and Co. that is effective against some of the many strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and considered to be the seed of cervical cancer, causing a vast majority of reported cases. Gardasil has been recommended for girls and women ages 9 to 26.

It can legitimately be argued that this medical breakthrough is a positive advance for women’s health. However, we’ve previously witnessed several medical advances that crossed ethical boundaries, and the makers of Gardasil are no exception.

Merck is helping to bankroll efforts to pass state laws mandating the use of Gardasil for girls as young as 11-years-old. Their efforts are working. Currently, at least 18 states are debating whether or not to mandate Gardasil for schoolgirls.

Merck is admittedly funneling money for this lobbying effort through an advocacy group called, Women in Government. Its membership consists of female state legislators around the nation. Members of Women in Government have introduced many of the state bills mandating Gardasil around the nation. Merck won’t say how much money they’re spending on the lobbying effort, but it’s been reported they’ve doubled their lobbying budget to between $150,000 and $250,000 in Texas alone, where mandating the drug is expected to be a harder sell.

This development is a conflict of interest for the drug company. Let’s consider the financial windfall Merck would enjoy if states mandate the use of Gardasil. Each regimen of the drug costs $360. It’s given in three injections over a six-month period. Steve Brozak, a drug-industry analyst from WBB Securities, projects Gardasil will reach at least one billion dollars in sales every year. He believes billions more will be made for the company if states require the vaccine.

Even though most states propose opt-out provisions for parents who have moral objections, the requirement intrudes on families’ privacy and it begins to chip away at parents’ authority to make moral and medical decisions for their children. Further, it sends a conflicting message to children whose parents advocate abstinence until marriage. The vaccine should be available to parents and women who want it, but it shouldn’t be pushed or forced on those who don’t.

Texas Governor, Rick Perry, says “I look at this no different than vaccinating our children for polio.” I respectfully disagree. It sends the wrong message to millions of unsuspecting and vulnerable young girls that the risks of premarital sex are minimized with this vaccine. It will likely provide a false sense of security among many girls, resulting in more teenage sex, other STDs, pregnancy and abortion. It has taken years of effort to reduce the pregnancy and abortion rate of teenage girls. We don’t want to see government programs enacted which reverse this positive trend.

Sadly, missing in the discussion on Gardasil is this key point: HPV is a preventable disease if people don’t engage in risky sexual behavior. And it appears nearly everyone discussing the issue seems to have abdicated the concept of abstinence until marriage – the best and most simple answer.

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