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August 19, 2009

HPV vaccine promoted with drug company money

Two new studies shed light on the safety of the vaccine to protect women from cervical cancer and call into question the ethics behind the marketing of the shot.

Gardasil, the blockbuster vaccine to combat the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, is linked to complications, including 32 deaths, according to an analysis in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. But researchers note that the rate of side effects is low and the safety record is not out of line from other similar vaccines. The most common side effects are fainting, nausea and dizziness at a rate of about 40 to 80 cases per 1 million girls vaccinated.

Raising more eyebrows, however, is an accompanying JAMA article revealing that the makers of Gardasil, Merck & Co, provided grants to professional medical associations to help promote the vaccine.

"However, much of the material did not address the full complexity of the issues surrounding the vaccine and did not provide balanced recommendations on risks and benefits," the authors note.

With some 23 million doses nationwide since its FDA approval in 2006, Gardasil has been marketed heavily with commercials depicting young girls chanting they would become "one less." Approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26, worldwide sales reached $1.4 billion in 2008. Still, the vaccine has been controversial from the start.

By marketing it as an anti-cancer vaccine, the company tried to avoid unease from parents and the public about how HPV is spread -- through sexual contact, increasing the threat of cancer to all adolescents, while ignoring the subgroups that are most at risk, said authors Sheila M Rothman and David J Rothman of Columbia University's school of public health.

Merck told the Washington Post that it gave professional groups funding for educational programs on the vaccine, but didn't tell the groups what to say.

Still, the Rothmans don't mince words when taking on the big drug maker and the professional medical organizations (PMAs):

That these arguments were delivered by PMAs is a cause for concern. Professional medical associations are obligated to provide members with evidence-based data so they can present relevant risks and benefits to their patients. To this end, PMAs must become more transparent about their relationship with the industry, disclosing both the precise funding and technical assistance they have received to develop and disseminate the promotional products.


AFP/Getty photo

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 12:22 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Medical studies, Pediatrics


I'm concerned about the long term affects of this vaccine - these are young girls. Do drug companies usually offer grants to help market their product? Is this ethical?

JAMA Article Slams Gardasil Marketing:

I'm not sure what the news is here. It's been widely reported for years now that drug companies were behind the push for these vaccines.

Don't routine gyn exams screen for cervical cancer? How easily treatable is it if discovered early? Just wondering if the vaccine is a good idea for young women who will get regular checkups.

Many of you might be interested in the book “The HPV Vaccine Controversy: Sex, Cancer, God and Politics” authored by Shobha S. Krishnan, M.D, Barnard college, Columbia University. It is written without the influence of any pharmaceutical companies or special interest groups. The book educates both professionals and the public about HPV infections, the diseases they cause and the role/ controversies surrounding the new vaccines. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, June 17th 2009) calls the book superb and a terrific contribution to the field. It is available at, Barnes and Noble .com and through international distributors. Link to the book:

I am thinking that people really need to do some hardcore research that is independent of what the drug companies tell them. Most of the information is slanted since they are in the business of making money. There are lots of really good posts and articles about HPV facts and how to prevent it. There are also other products (natural) that are helping in fighting against it. Some of them have national cancer institute studies involved, very interesting.

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About Picture of Health
Meredith CohnMeredith Cohn has been a reporter since 1991, covering everything from politics and airlines to the environment and medicine. A runner since junior high and a particular eater for almost as long, she tries to keep up on health and fitness trends. Her aim is to bring you the latest news and information from the local and national medical and wellness communities.

Andrea K. WalkerAndrea K. Walker knows it’s weird to some people, but she has a fascination with fitness, diseases, medicine and other health-related topics. She subscribes to a variety of health and fitness magazines and becomes easily engrossed in the latest research in health and science. An exercise fanatic, she’s probably tried just about every fitness activity there is. Her favorites are running, yoga and kickboxing. So it is probably fitting that she has been assigned to cover the business of healthcare and to become a regular contributor to this blog. Andrea has been at The Sun for nearly 10 years, covering manufacturing, retail , airlines and small and minority business. She looks forward to telling readers about the latest health news.

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