The Politics of Gardasil

By Peggy O’Mara
Issue 142, 2007

Two young girlsIn February 2007, bowing to pressure from parents and medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Merck & Co. stopped lobbying state officials to require that students be vaccinated with Gardasil before they can be admitted to school. The vaccine manufacturer hopes to generate as much as $3 billion in annual sales from Gardasil. According to the AAP, however, the states lack the money to pay for the vaccine, which costs $360 for the series of three shots.

In February, Texas Governor Rick Perry mandated Gardasil for all middle-school-aged girls, which would cost the state $50 million in the first year alone. Texas lawmakers are expected to rescind the mandate. Perry has been criticized for taking a $5,000 donation from Merck the same day his aides met with company representatives to discuss the HPV vaccine. His former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck.

In fall 2006, Michigan was the first state to introduce legislation to require Gardasil for admission to public school; the bill was narrowly defeated in December. In January 2007, a similar Maryland bill was withdrawn. The Virginia legislature passed a bill to mandate the vaccine, but Governor Kaine did not sign it. Bills have been introduced in at least 31 states, but few are expected to pass because of growing public skepticism about the necessity of the vaccine.

The medical evidence points to the need for caution in regard to Gardasil. An article in the February 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), by Dr. Eileen F. Dunne and her colleagues, found that HPV infection is common among US females, especially those 20 to 24, 44.8 percent of whom are infected. However, only 24.5 percent of girls 14 to 19 were infected. The study also noted that 90 percent of all HPV infections clear up on their own.

Even more disturbing, the study showed that of the HPV infections detected, only 3.4 percent were of the strains that Gardasil provides protection from.

In addition to the facts that no data are available on the prevalence of HPV in girls younger than 14, that the majority of girls 14 to 19 are not infected with HPV, and that the vaccine itself is effective against only 3.4 percent of all HPV infections, Gardasil has not been tested for long-term safety. According to an analysis done by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), 82 reports of reactions to Gardasil have been submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in the six months since the vaccine’s approval by the FDA. Sixty-three percent of the reactions occurred the day the vaccine was given. The reactions cited in the reports submitted on behalf of 84 girls and 2 boys from 21 states and the District of Columbia include syncopal (fainting) episodes and seizures, arthralgia and joint pain, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and other immunological reactions.

PEGGY O’MARA, Editor and Publisher

Eileen F. Dunne, MD et al., “Prevalence of HPV Infection Among Females in the United States,” Journal of the American Medical Association 297, no. 8 (28 February 2007): 813?819.