Last Spring, Mark Blaxill authored three posts about Merck's Gardasil HPV vaccine and the symbiosis of government and commerce. Texas Governor Rick Perry is in the news not only for his Presidential bid, but his close relationship with Merck, including an attempt to mandate Gardasil for Texas girls in 2007. An attempt that fell flatter than a Longhorn steer's cow patty. An attempt that he now says was a big mistake. According to The Washington Post, Perry's conflicts of interest were myriad:
"Merck could generate billions in sales if Gardasil _ at $360 for the three-shot regimen _ were made mandatory across the country. Most insurance companies now cover the vaccine, which has been shown to have no serious side effects.
The New Jersey-based drug company is bankrolling efforts to pass state laws across the country mandating Gardasil 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.
Perry has ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.
The governor also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.
A top official from Merck's vaccine division sits on Women in Government's business council, and many of the bills around the country have been introduced by members of Women in Government.
Merck spokeswoman Janet Skidmore would not say how much the company is spending on lobbyists or how much it has donated to Women in Government. Susan Crosby, the group's president, also declined to specify how much the drug company gave."
Some folks are calling Gardasil mandates into question because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, thus a social issue, especially for Conservatives. Blaxill dissects the argument from a more logical point of view. In short, the Perry/Gardasil issue isn't about teen promiscuity, it's about:
- A vaccine that hasn’t yet saved a life and won’t have a chance to test the theory that it does for years
- A vaccine that’s already killed and disabled children
- A vaccine that generated billions in revenue and profit for Merck within months.
- A vaccine the FDA gave a free pass on safety without testing against a true placebo
- A vaccine the CDC couldn’t wait to recommend without testing or questioning any of the assumptions above
- A CDC leader named Julie Gerberding who was responsible for recommending Gardasil as safe and effective and then waited the minimum number of days before passing through the revolving door to taking responsibility for managing the sales and profit of the same vaccine. Read the three part series in full below.
By Mark Blaxill
Part 1 A License to Kill? How A Public-Private Partnership Made the Government Merck’s Gardasil Partner
“Perhaps no other recent product on the market demonstrates successful health care technology transfer better than the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, produced by Merck & Co. and approved by the FDA in June 2006,” proclaimed a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) newsletter. In a February 23, 2007 article entitled “From Lab to Market: The HPV Vaccine”, the NIH Record celebrated the pivotal role of government researchers in developing Merck’s Gardasil product. “Based largely on technology developed at NIH,” the newsletter reported, “the vaccine works to prevent four types of the sexually transmitted HPV that together cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer and 90 percent of genital warts (HERE).
The occasion motivating this celebratory article was the “Philip S. Chen, Jr. Distinguished Lecture on Innovation and Technology Transfer” given by Douglas T. Lowy, one of the NIH scientists involved in developing the HPV vaccine. In the ceremony pictured above, Lowy is receiving an honorary poster from the head of NIH at the time, Elias Zerhouni, who took advantage of the occasion to shower praise on his team’s work, one he viewed as a model for future efforts. “It’s a ‘heroic’ story about the effort to fight cervical cancer, the second most deadly cancer for women worldwide, said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni,” in the NIH Record’s account. “He noted that he has talked about the vaccine’s creation to Congress and with the President on his recent visit to NIH. How researchers took the technology ‘from the lab to the marketplace is a journey we can learn from,’ Zerhouni said.”
While Zerhouni was bragging to anyone in Washington D.C. who would listen about the NIH team’s role in this historic accomplishment, the vaccine's developers were actively spreading the news of their achievement in scientific circles. It’s hard to blame them, because at the time Lowy and his colleague John T. Schiller, leaders of the team that had invented the technology for the “virus-like particles” (or VLPs) that made Gardasil possible, were in some pretty heady company. In 2008, Harald zur Hausen, the scientist who discovered the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in cervical cancer during the 1980s, received one half of the Nobel Prize in Medicine; the two researchers at the Pasteur Institute who had discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had to share the other half.