Guinea Pigs for Profit?

I hope you all have been able to read about my fascinating trip to Pakistan. Feel free to post your comments! We’ve generated a lot of interest in this country and our humanitarian work.

When I arrived home, I was looking for my letter to People, which was to be published. They only published two lines, which were pretty generic, and missed the whole point of why I wrote. Now I know how my writers feel when I edit them! Here’s what I really wrote:

“I was outraged to read about legislation to mandate that 9-year-old girls in Texas get the Gardasil vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV) or face expulsion from public school. Kudos to Merck for developing this vaccine for this virus, which has been linked to cervical cancer, but it should be a matter of choice. I am behind the parents’ moral outrage 100% but this is also a violation of civil rights. Children are entitled to an education, a right not contingent on a disease that is not a pandemic. It’s not the chicken pox, measles or bird flu. You get this virus by sexual contact. A girl should be educated about its availability, and given a choice to use it when the time is right. This is a family and eventually individual decision.

“But your article missed an even greater outrage. This could be mostly about economics. Pharmaceutical companies are among the most powerful lobbyists. They wield extraordinary influence over lawmakers and the doctors who drive the clinical studies and who prescribe. Mandating a vaccine for such a young population not even at risk is irresponsible, immoral and smacks of being profit driven. Your readers should know that the internet is buzzing with questions: Does Texas Governor Rick Perry have ties to Merck? Is his former Chief of Staff currently the head of Merck’s Texas lobbying team? Did Perry receive $6,000 in campaign contributions from Merck? And, could mandating vaccinations help cover sales lost by the withdrawal of Merck’s Vioxx from the market? 20 states are now considering forcing our girls to get this vaccine. Are our little girls going to be guinea pigs for profit? Shame on Merck, and Texas Governor Perry. Parents, fight this one on moral, civil and economic grounds, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”

Note: Gardasil does not guarantee protection against HPV, and does not protect against all types of cervical cancer.

2 thoughts on “Guinea Pigs for Profit?”

  1. Laurie-

    I wanted to address some points in your recent posting on the HPV vaccine. I don’t read “People”, so don’t know if these points are redundant to that article.

    1) “not a pandemic” The Oxford English Dictionary defines pandemic as “Of a disease: epidemic over a very large area; affecting a large proportion of a population”. The CDC estimates that, in the US, 6.2 million people are infected with HPV annually, over 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year and 3,700 women will die. Most infections accur between the ages of 15-24. >80% of women will have been infected with HPV by age 50. Only 3 states in the US have higher death rates from cervical cancer than does Texas.
    2) “You get this virus by sexual contact”. Not entirely true. Genital contact (not necessarily intercourse) is the primary route, but HPV may be spread in other ways, even from a mother to her child.
    3) “This is a family and eventually individual decision.” That’s right, and the governer of Texas allows families to opt out of getting the vaccine, as stated in his Executive Order: “Parents’ Rights. The Department of State Health Services will, in order to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care, modify the current process in order to allow parents to submit a request for a conscientious objection affidavit form via the Internet while maintaining privacy safeguards under current law.”
    4) “Mandating a vaccine for such a young population not even at risk is irresponsible, immoral and smacks of being profit driven.” At what exact age do young people have sex? The answer is that you can’t say for sure, and so you have to pick an early age.
    5) “readers should know that the internet is buzzing with questions” Questions are great, facts are better. Please direct your readers to the CDC website for a report on the HPV vaccine & the facts that went into recommendations regarding vaccination practices, minur the hyperbole & innuendo: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5602a1.htm

  2. Excellent points, Geoff, and I whole heartedly agree with you on the science of this. This blog posting is 10 years old, and my views have changed, and I have learned more about HPV. You mentioned that this is a recent posting, but it's not. People Magazine did not do a good job in writing the original article and that's why I delved deeper. Statistics are tricky; there are different types of HPV, only two linked to cervical cancer, I believe. Not all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV of course; in fact most are not. To say 6.2 million will be infected and then 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer seems to imply causation but that's not the case necessarily so we have to be careful how we present these. While Perry allowed parents to opt out he did want to push legislation that barred families who opted out from attending school… and that's just not right, especially when Perry has/had known financial ties to Merck. So there are several issues and layers here. But about the vaccination itself, I agree it should be used, along with vaccination for hep A and B.


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