State laws requiring young girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease soon could be controlling the decisions parents make regarding their daughters in 26 states, as a result of the financial influence of drug maker Merck & Co. and the support it has gotten for its campaign from Women in Government as well as a prominent Republican lobbyist.
The drug manufacturer, the only company now making the vaccine for human papillomavirus, stands to be the immediate beneficiary – with estimates of up to $4 billion in sales – as well as those few thousand individuals whose complications from the HPV virus may well be eliminated.
The powerful connections behind the apparently separate but simultaneous state legislative proposals to mandate the HPV vaccine across the nation became apparent when Fran Eaton, the editor for the Illinois Review blog posted a commentary on the situation in Illinois.
There she noted with dismay that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had signed into law by executive fiat a requirement that all schoolgirls be vaccinated – at costs that have been estimated at up to $400 per student – with the vaccine created by Merck.
“Few things set a person back on his or her heels quicker than getting a call out of the blue from the former chairman of the Republican National Committee asking how he or Merck could convince you to support mandating a vaccine against a virus transmitted by sexual activity,” Eaton wrote.
“I suspect Gov. Perry of Texas may have received such a call before issuing an executive order mandating for all 11-year-olds. A call like that, in addition to pressure from his Chief of Staff, whose family member lobbies for the HPV vaccine producer, was probably just enough to push him into the hot water he’s boiling in right now.
“And if he got such a call, he should know he’s not the only one. Several conservative activists throughout the nation heard from a particular Merck consultant over the past few months, asking how resistance to the HPV vaccine could be pared down.
“I was one of them,” she wrote.
She then described her call from “former RNC Chairman Jack Oliver – the highest fund raiser in RNC history,” when he asked her to “go neutral” on the issue of requiring the STD vaccine for all schoolgirls.
That lobbying actually shouldn’t have been surprising. Oliver is listed on the staff directory for the Washington-based Brian Cave Strategies, and one of the clients listed on that company’s website is “Financial Services Forum.” That same organization is listed by Forbes on its website regarding the background of a Merck director, William B. Harrison Jr.
Merck was asked to comment on the connections, but did not return a call to WND.
But earlier the company issued a statement to WND that it works with a variety of groups in states across the country to provide information about the vaccine it produces and wants to sell to as many customers as it can.
“It is apparent that there is a clear urgency on the part of health care providers, consumers, managed care organizations and regulatory agencies to help prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases,” said the unattributed statement.
“Merck’s goal is to support efforts to implement policies that ensure that Gardasil is used to achieve what it was designed to do: help reduce the burden of cervical cancer – the second leading cancer among women around the world – and other HPV-related diseases for as many people as possible, and as quickly as possible.
“Merck works with elected and appointed officials in all 50 states on many issues affecting health policy, pharmaceutical research and innovation. We do work at the state level to provide public health experts, legislators and other policy makers with disease and vaccine information to support the implementation of state-level policies for all of our vaccines, including Gardasil.”
Among those “legislators” that Merck apparently has been providing information to is Women in Government, an organization set up for female state lawmakers that runs an attached website promoting the vaccine and mandates that would require its use.
“Women In Government, a Washington-based, bipartisan organization of female legislators, is leading a push to make HPV vaccination compulsory in every state,” a statement on the group’s website says. It appears that at least a share of the HPV mandates introduced in statehouses in recent days have been from organization members.
Perry just a week ago issued an executive order implementing a requirement that Texas schoolgirls now be given the Merck vaccine, called Gardasil, before they are allowed to attend public schools in that state.
Although the vaccine may be very helpful, parents rights activists and other conservative interests have objected to the requirement that girls be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease.
David Welch, of the U.S. Pastor Council, located in Texas, said an alert letter was sent via e-mail, fax and other routes to 7,000 Christian churches in Texas alerting them of the new requirement.
“I tell you the buzzsaws are fully engaged,” he told WND.
In communications to the governor’s office, he asked, “Why impose a broad and possibly risky vaccination on an entire population of tens of thousands of girls when this is a behavior-based problem? Once again, government is attempting to solve a moral problem with a policy that encompasses thousands who are NOT at risk.
“The numbers just don’t add up and give one more reason why parents should pull their children out of government schools,” Welch wrote, adding that the vaccine itself apparently can cause side effects ranging from seizures to loss of consciousness.
Spokeswoman Krista Moody in Perry’s press office said there was no “influence” from Merck or anybody else on the governor as he made his decision, making his state the first in the nation to have such a requirement.
“It was information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),” she told WND. And since the decision, “there have been a lot of discussions and communications about the governor’s decision on every single side of the issue.
“We certainly have some individuals who don’t agree, and a lot of individuals who do agree,” she told WND.
Eaton said the request from Oliver came to her because she’s been active on immunization councils in Illinois.
“Oliver had done me a big favor in 2000, when he worked to get a letter for me from the newly-elected George W. Bush to several thousand homeschooled students who had participated in an online study plan we put together for the Bush campaign,” she wrote. “Following the days of finally declaring victory, a mad scuffle took place to set up the new administration, and a letter to each of our homeschoolers for Bush participants that had been promised appeared to fall through the cracks, and was on the verge of disappointing all those kids who had worked so hard for Bush’s election.
“Jack Oliver saved the day. As campaign chairman, he stepped in and got the letter in motion, sparing all those broken hearts…” she wrote. That was going through her mind last summer “when he said he was calling on Merck’s behalf.”
“‘Jack, look, I’d like to help you, but I can’t,’ I said. ‘There’s absolutely no way I can sign off on any mandatory vaccine – and especially one associated with STDs,'” she wrote.
“Next thing I knew, Oliver was leaving messages for other pro-family leaders at the state and national levels. Some who weren’t familiar with Merck’s arm-twisting techniques I had witnessed when opposing the chicken pox vaccine mandate in Illinois shrugged off the request, saying they didn’t really have a problem with it.”
She said the issue is larger than the single HPV vaccine: it’s the fact that the American public is being forced to help a drug company realize a good return on its product.
“It is their job to sell their products, not to force it on trusting souls who have been persuaded by a cooperative media that a health crisis must be diverted. If this pattern is not stopped with this vaccine, it won’t ever happen. The slope will have become too steep and slippery. There will be no place to stop, and we will have no choice but to force medication on our children and ourselves at the whim of any and all drug companies,” she said.
Eaton told WND that the issue should remain a decision for the parents. “On this particular situation, it’s actually sexually transmitted, a skin-to-skin contact. Definitely you have to be involved with promiscuous or at least dangerous behavior,” she said.
She noted the “avalanche” of HPV vaccine legislation bludgeoning across the nation this year, and that was documented by National Conference of State Legislatures.
There has been so much activity that the group already has set up a special website just to track and update the various campaigns.
Arizona, for example, would allocate $8.2 million just for the program for the first year, and California would require all girls entering sixth grade to be vaccinated – with a price tag that was undetermined and apparently unlimited.
Colorado’s plan would go even further in the program that parents apparently would have to pay for, allowing the “executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment to decide the content of information parents would be allowed to have.
Other states with plans pending include Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Virginia. Texas had had a legislative proposal, but that essentially was mooted by Perry’s executive decision.
The flurry of activity on the issue was moving so aggressively, four other states – South Carolina, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Ohio – had joined the bandwagon but the NCSL hadn’t had time to add those proposals to their website, a spokeswoman told WND.
With only a few exceptions, the plans all mandate the vaccination of young girls against the STD, and require that insurance and/or the government pay for the program.
And that would be where Merck would come in. An earlier report in the Baltimore Sun estimated the sales of the vaccine are expected to reach $1 billion next year – but the more states where it is mandated, the higher the sales – potentially surpassing $4 billion.
Eaton said parents have little to battle back against the “millions Merck is able to put into the political process. Those of us who knock on doors are going to be minimized.”
“No one is saying it (the vaccine) should not be available. It simply should not be required to enter into the school system. That absolutely should not be the case,” she told WND.
“But this ‘Big Brother’ mentality is spreading. It’s coming. Believe me,” she said.
As WND reported when Perry made his announcement, Debi Vinnedge, executive director for Children of God for Life, said the vaccine could be considered in the same class as condoms. Studies in their time indicated those, she said, would address the problem of STDs, just as current studies support Gardasil.
“The purpose of vaccinations in children at schools was to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. There’s nothing wrong with doing that kind of thing,” Vinnedge told WND. “But this is not a disease that is spread any other way other than direct sexual intercourse.”
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said the flu virus kills 60,000 annually in the U.S., but the flu vaccine is not mandated. The HPV vaccine would address some of the estimated 4,000 fatalities from HPV each year.
“The governor’s order forces little girls to be shot with a sex virus vaccine. He has circumvented debate on this controversial matter to the financial benefit of Merck, one of his campaign contributors. An opt-out provision puts parents in the position of having to resist forceful government officials, and puts the burden on parents when it should be on the vaccine maker.
“While we support the vaccine itself, a government mandate that little girls must be shot with it well before they’re sexually active, with the likely consequence they would have to get another expensive booster before they’re sexually active, is an outrageous assault on girls and their parents,” Wright said.
In a WND column, KSFO 560 talk-show host Barbara Simpson said raised a slew of questions about the vaccine and its implementation, but noted it was “good business, for drug companies and the government.
“We’re moving toward mandating every new vaccine on the market. But our children have too many shots now. Every new one further burdens their immune systems. We simply don’t know the effect of that.”
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