Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Merck calling off the dogs

Bad press finally has gotten to Merck, the Whitehouse Station pharmacuetical company that has the patent on Gardasil, a vaccine it says prevents human papillomavirus, a cause of some cervical cancers. It's calling off its expensive campaign through Women in Government to "persuade" their fellow legislators to adopt state mandates that pre-teen girls be vaccinated.

I wouldn't have known New Jersey's Legislature had a pair of bills mandating vaccination if it weren't for Gwen Moran of Wall's column Tuesday in the Asbury Park Press. The search engine at the Legislature's Web site oddly doesn't churn up these bills using obvious keywords like Gardasil, papillomavirus, HVP or vaccination. Maybe I should have tried searching for "bills Merck paid us to keep off the radar."

If you read the bill you see our daughters would have to get this nascent vaccine or not attend public school. The only exceptions are if your doctor certifies her health can't take it or you can establish religious objection -- like, prove you're a Christian Scientist, I guess.

Men get and carry HPV, too. Isn't this bill just a wee bit discriminatory by gender? Our sons won't have to be certified as vaccinated to attend school. And what about the subtle judgment message it sends, considering HPV is sexually transmitted? Girls are inately Jezebels tempting your sons.

Our pediatrician is not recommending this vaccination yet. She won't make her patients guinea pigs. Women remember being lured like kids to lollipops into getting Pfizer's annual Depo-Provera shot for birth control; few women used that a second year.

The Senate bill is sponsored by our own Ellen Karcher, Loretta Weinberg, Barbara Buono and Joseph F. Vitale. The Assembly version is sponsored by Michael J. Panter, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joan M. Voss, Joan M. Quigley and Joseph Vas.

And, you ask, just how persuasive is the supposedly objective Women in Government to these guys? Bristol-Myers Squibb's philanthropic division is a Women in Government "partner," while its business council includes GlaxoSmithKline, Digene, ExxonMobil,Verizon and Wellpoint. And look'ee there, Mabel; Merck, Pfizer and every other major pharmaceutical firm are on its list of "sponsors," along with other altruistic sorts of businesses like Wal-Mart. As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, surprise."

Update: Uh-oh. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and eight other lawmakers now have been caught with their hands on $5,000 cookies from the Merck cookie jar just before steamrolling this same bill through in Texas. Snap!

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