There were two marketing men and a clinical research director sitting in a pub… ‘Why did the chickenpox vaccine cross the road?’ ‘To get to the mass market on the other side!’
Now, substitute chickenpox with ‘human papillomavirus’ (HPV) and you have this year’s new mass market. And the size of that market, as we’ve said before, is every child alive now and forever. And if Merck get their way, every older woman too.
Today, girls in Scotland have been brought into the HPV vaccination programme, having been told that they will be at less risk of cervical cancer.
Schools start cancer vaccinations
Every secondary schoolgirl in the UK is to be offered the injections
Scottish schoolgirls are to become the first in the UK to be vaccinated against cervical cancer.
Schools in the Lanarkshire, Tayside, Grampian and Western Isles NHS areas are to begin vaccinating 12 and 13-year-old girls from this week.
Pupils in other areas of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow in the coming weeks.
All girls aged between 12 and 17 should have been offered the vaccine by August next year.
The immunisation programme is to get under way in Scotland before other parts of the UK because its school term has already started.
The Cervarix vaccine works by targeting HPV, the virus which causes cervical cancer. Its manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, said it should prevent 70% of cases – saving about 70 lives a year in Scotland.
HMG chose Cervarix over Gardasil, for as yet unspecified reasons and despite Gardasil being a better choice healthwise – always assuming you want the vaccine in the first place!
The vaccine is given in three separate doses and – at about £240 for a course – is the most expensive vaccine to be routinely offered by the NHS.
£240 for every girl now and forever direct from taxpayers coffers to GSK shareholders. “Wow! There’s the money river! Pa, bring the buckets!”
Dr McKenzie added: “They must understand that the vaccine is fantastic news for preventing cervical cancer, but it can only be combated by using cervical screening and the vaccine.
“So when they are called for screening aged 20 they really must come along whether they have had the vaccine or not.”
The number of girls aged between 20 and 25 who come forward for cervical smears is already declining.
Some fears have been expressed that the vaccination programme will cause even fewer to attend screening, while questions have also been asked about why so much money is being spent on saving the lives of less that 100 Scottish women a year.
Good fears, good questions, as yet not satisfactorily explained. There is the question about how long protection lasts, meaning boosters are inevitable at current estimates. And questions as to whether a drop in screening rates would completely abolish any success in prevention, given the small numbers of patients involved.
But really, this is all so much fluff covering the truth of modern pharmaceutical marketing techniques: by using available media, you (the gullible sheeple) can be made to fear absolutely anything. You will then buy any snake-oil BigPharma comes up with to protect you against The Fear.
This technique even has a name. ‘Astro-turfing‘.
Not only this, but BigPharma can then wine, dine and otherwise bribe your ‘elected’ officials into committing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of public funds towards the cost of Snake-Oil.
One of the vaccines, Gardasil, from Merck, is made available to the poorest girls in the country, up to age 18, at a potential cost to the United States government of more than $1 billion; proposals to mandate the vaccine for girls in middle schools have been offered in 24 states, and one will take effect in Virginia this fall. Even the normally stingy British National Health Service will start giving the other vaccine — Cervarix, from GlaxoSmithKline — to all 12-year-old girls at school this September.
The lightning-fast transition from newly minted vaccine to must-have injection in the United States and Europe represents a triumph of what the manufacturers call education and their critics call marketing. The vaccines, which offer some protection against infection from sexually transmitted viruses, are far more expensive than earlier vaccines against other diseases — Gardasil’s list price is $360 for the three-dose series, and the total cost is typically $400 to nearly $1,000 with markup and office visits (and often only partially covered by health insurance).
Award-winning advertising has promoted the vaccines. Before the film “Sex and the City,” some moviegoers in the United States saw ads for Gardasil. On YouTube and in advertisements on popular shows like “Law and Order,” a multiethnic cast of young professionals urges girls to become “one less statistic” by getting vaccinated.
The vaccine makers have also brought attention to cervical cancer by providing money for activities by patients’ and women’s groups, doctors and medical experts, lobbyists and political organizations interested in the disease, sometimes in ways that skirt disclosure requirements or obscure the companies’ involvement.
In the United States, hundreds of doctors have been recruited and trained to give talks about Gardasil — $4,500 for a lecture — and some have made hundreds of thousands of dollars. Politicians have been lobbied and invited to receptions urging them to legislate against a global killer. And former state officials have been recruited to lobby their former colleagues.
“There was incredible pressure from industry and politics,” said Dr. Jon Abramson, a professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest University who was chairman of the committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommended the vaccine for all girls once they reached 11 or 12.
“This big push is making people crazy — thinking they’re bad moms if they don’t get their kids vaccinated,” said Dr. Abby Lippman, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and policy director of the Canadian Women’s Health Network. Canada will spend $300 million on a cervical cancer vaccine program.
…And why the sudden alarm in developed countries about cervical cancer, some experts ask. A major killer in the developing world, particularly Africa, where the vaccines are too expensive for use, cervical cancer is classified as very rare in the West because it is almost always preventable through regular Pap smears, which detect precancerous cells early enough for effective treatment. Indeed, because the vaccines prevent only 70 percent of cervical cancers, Pap smear screening must continue anyway.
“Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politicians, and went directly to the people — it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now,” said Dr. Diane Harper, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School. Dr. Harper was a principal investigator on the clinical trials of both Gardasil and Cervarix, and she spent 2006-7 on sabbatical at the World Health Organization developing plans for cervical cancer vaccine programs around the world. […]
In television advertisements, a cast of hip people in their 20s — artists, writers and professionals — describe why they got the shots, in the language of liberation, such as, “I chose to get vaccinated because my dreams don’t include cervical cancer.” The advertisements direct viewers to gardasil.com, which includes patients’ stories, buddy icons and downloads for holding an event at sororities.
Girls of any age who have had one dose of the vaccine can ask for text-message “reminders” from Merck to get the next two shots. The offers come with another reminder: “I understand that the information I provide will be used by Merck or those working on behalf of Merck for market research purposes.”
For such efforts, Merck last May swept the 2008 Pharmaceutical Advertising and Marketing Excellence awards, and Gardasil was named Brand of the Year by Pharmaceutical Executive magazine.
The marketing helped make Gardasil one of Merck’s best sellers, with a projected sales of $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion outside Europe this year, and more from sales in Europe, where Merck sells the vaccine through a joint venture with Sanofi Aventis.
Gregory A. Poland, a vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic, was a nonvoting member on the C.D.C. panel that recommended Gardasil in 2006 and has publicly defended the panel’s decision. Records show he received at least $27,420 in expenses and consulting fees from Merck from 1999 to 2007. Both the C.D.C. and Dr. Michael Camilleri, chairman of the Mayo Clinic Conflict of Interest Review Board, speaking on Dr. Poland’s behalf, said the payments complied with institutional requirements.
In the United States, 41 states have passed or begun considering legislation on cervical cancer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and 24 have considered proposals to mandate the vaccine for girls, generally in middle school…
The only state to pass a bill requiring the vaccine for school entry is Virginia; it takes effect in October, after school begins, so will first apply in 2009.
Merck has a growing economic interest in Virginia. In December 2006, Merck announced it would invest $57 million to expand its Elkton, Va., plant to make Gardasil, helped by a $700,000 grant from a state economic development agency that is part of the executive branch. Two months later, Gov. Tim Kaine, who has been mentioned as a possible Democratic vice presidential candidate, signed legislation requiring Gardasil for schoolgirls. Four months after that, Merck pledged to invest $193 million more in the plant to make drugs and vaccines, helped by a state grant of $1.5 million.
In Texas, Merck hired Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff as a lobbyist, and contributed $6,000 to the governor and $38,000 to other legislators. Last February, Mr. Perry ordered that all schoolgirls be inoculated with Gardasil, a pronouncement that was overturned by the Texas Legislature, 181 to 3, a few months after the financial conflicts were revealed.
One rationale for inoculating boys is that entire populations should be vaccinated to achieve what is called herd immunity. But critics ask whether it is worth conducting a campaign on the scale of the one used against polio to eliminate a generally harmless virus.
Said Dr. Raffle, the British cervical cancer specialist: “Oh, dear. If we give it to boys, then all pretense of scientific worth and cost analysis goes out the window.”
My emphases. What a great article. Balanced, factual, well-written, undramatic. Take note, BBQ.
The anti-HPV push appears to have recruited BBQ, who try to attach a team of wild horses to your heartstrings to make sure you get the message. Embarassing and irrelevant to the real story.
So, like chickenpox vaccine before it, and who-knows-what after it, BigPharma take the population as one big cash cow and milk it, regardless of need or healthcare priorities, regardless of how better public money may be spent, regardless of fully examining any potential health hazards associated with their products.
Do you trust a vaccine created to fulfil a market created out of a need for profit?