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Was Perry Wrong to Push HPV Vaccine?

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Whether you are against politicians helping Pharma loot our health care dollars or mandatory medicine, Texas Governor Rick Perry's facilitation of Merck's Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, has angered Republicans and Democrats alike.

Gardasil and GSK's Cervarix vaccine protect against the virus which causes cervical cancer and genital warts.

The vaccine protects against the two HPV strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts but isn't effective against all HPV strains. Nor does it outperform the Pap smear or even make subsequent Pap smears unnecessary. Researchers also don't know how long protection lasts and when, or whether, a booster is necessary to retain protection.

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The HPV vaccine is also the most expensive of all recommended vaccines at $359.25 for all three doses says Pew Research.

Despite poster-sized ads at city train stations and fancy TV commercials, many women are just saying no to the vaccines, according to research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.

Less than one-third of 9,658 teenagers and young women who were eligible for the vaccine actually began the three-injection series between 2006 and 2010, according to data analyzed at the University of Maryland. Others started the regimen but didn't get their second or third injection.

Merck is also using Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses to sell product. One, on Medscape, written by two Merck employees, was titled "Quadrivalent HPV Vaccine May Be Effective in Women 24 to 45-Years-Old," sounding like the commercial it was. Upon completion of this activity, you'll be able to "specify the currently recommended age range for the administration of the quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine," doctors who take the "course" are told. Who can say Dumbed Down?

In addition to causing fainting, allergic reactions, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and blood clots, girls have died after receiving the vaccines, according to the CDC, though the vaccine is not clearly the cause. Trials were suspended in India in April after the vaccine was suspected in the deaths of six children in clinical trials.

Critics also question the science behind clinical studies that make the vaccines look effective against placebo and why cervical cancer, not malaria, Dengue fever or potable water, is a burning third world i$sue.

"I was greatly offended that Merck suggest I vaccinate my nine-year-old daughter against an STD," says Kelley Watson, a mother of two in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. "Especially insulting to me was that there was never any mention of HPV as being a sexually transmitted disease. It was presented as something women can contract through tampons or nylon stockings-as if men played no part."

There are also transparency questions beyond Perry's Faux Pas. Why did former First Lady Laura Bush promote the original vaccine, even working with Pharma-funded citizen groups, according to some reports? Why was University of Queensland lecturer Dr. Andrew Gunn silenced by his own university when he questioned the vaccine and ordered to apologize to the vaccine maker, CSL, according to the Courier Mail?

Dr. Gunn expressed doubts about marketing the vaccine "as a solution to cancer of the cervix when at best it's expected to prevent about two-thirds of cases." He was also concerned about "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."

It's no secret that Pharma is pushing vaccines as a new profit center now that many of its expensive blockbuster pills are going off patent. It's no secret that Pharma is using high level politicians to accomplish the task, like Former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, now head of Merck vaccines.

Will parents uphold public health by giving the vaccines to their children-the public health of Big Pharma?

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

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