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Cool Ads Aren't Helping Gardasil and Cervarix Vaccines

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Prescription drug advertising can work miracles. With Vioxx, it got 20 million people to pay five times more for a pain reliever that doubled their risk of heart attack.

But advertising may not be working with Merck's Gardasil and GSK's Cervarix, vaccines which protect against Human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer.

According to research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia last month, women are Just Saying No to the heavily advertised vaccine. And a third won't return after the first inoculation, even though they are supposed to get three.

Why would women refuse a vaccine that costs $359.25 -- more than any other recommended vaccine says Pew Research -- but works no better than a Pap smear?

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A vaccine that only works against some viral strains anyway and requires boo$ters to keep working (if it's working) though no one even knows when?

Why would women, or their children, refuse a vaccine linked to 56 US girls' deaths as of September according to the CDC, the death of 14-year-old Natalie Morton last year (vaccinated at her school in Coventry, UK) and suspected in the deaths of six children in trials in India last April?

Don't people want to be healthy anymore?

Could public health officials be conspiring with government to push the vaccine like British Medical Journal reported in June about vaccine makers and officials involved with the swine flu pandemic last year? (Former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, who presided over the US swine flu outbreak, is now President of Merck Vaccines.)

After all, former First Lady Laura Bush and Merck-funded citizen front groups were the original vaccine proponents says Pam Martens on Counterpunch. And, months after approval of the vaccine, governors like Texas' Rick Perry began mandating vaccination of girls. Why?

Of course mainstream press focuses on morality questions inherent in inoculating 9-year-old kids for STDs, including anal cancer and genital warts. But elsewhere the science behind the vaccines itself is questioned.

What are the human effects of the organomercurial thimerosal and aluminum salts found in vaccines, medical professionals increasingly ask? Why was the primary endpoint in vaccine trials not cervical cancer but lesions which may not turn malignant, making the vaccine look more effective than it is?

And what about the safety of all vaccines given the zoonotic DNA transfer that can and does happen? Earlier this year FDA found both Merck and GSK vaccines for rotavirus contaminated with pig virus! Thanks for that.

There are also free speech issues with the HPV vaccine.

When University of Queensland lecturer Andrew Gunn questioned Gardasil's "marketing as a solution to cancer of the cervix when at best it's expected to prevent about two-thirds of cases" and "the incorrect and dangerous perception that it might make Pap smears unnecessary; and the difficult question of the best age to give a vaccine whose effect might yet prove to wear off before many recipients even start having sex," -- the University asked him to provide a written apology to the vaccine maker, CSL, a long-time partner, says the Courier Mail.

But despite doubts about the vaccine's safety, efficacy and why government is pushing it, child-targeted marketing for the vaccines runs in medical journals unabated. And on television.

In fact, in October GSK rolled out a TV flight targeted toward twentysomethings that depicts Millennial babes flashing their Cervarix tattoos in front of the camera. The tattoos read "armed against cervical cancer." Sweet.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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