Parental choice or federal intervention?
Gardasil, the controversial vaccine said to treat sexually transmitted Human Papilloma virus (HPV), is now being recommended for 11 and 12-year-old boys. The drug is touted as protecting against anal and throat cancers, not a major problem with young boys. Originally it was said to prevent cervical cancer and was being sold as a panacea for girls.
Seeing Red AZ wrote about this problematic drug in July 2008. It first gained national prominence when Texas Gov. Rick Perry mandated its use after Merck Pharmaceuticals PAC gave hefty donations to his campaign. Perry denied the donations influenced his decision to issue the executive order — bypassing the Texas legislature — from which parents could not opt in, but had to submit a written form to the State Health Department in Austin opting out of having their young daughters receive this fast-tracked, unproven vaccine, on the market less than a year. Perry’s chief-of-staff landed a lucrative lobbying position with the drug company.
Now, the latest recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is likely to broaden the use of the HPV vaccine, since most private insurers pay for vaccines once the committee recommends them. The HPV vaccine is unusually expensive. The three recommended doses cost pediatricians more than $300 and patients are often charged hundreds more.
But this is no bargain. Vaccinating the nation’s 11- and 12-year-old boys will cost almost $140 million annually, with the one-time “catch-up” among males 13 to 21 costing hundreds of millions more. Taxpayers, via federal subsidies, pay for about half of all vaccinations.
Not only are the CDC committee’s recommendations routinely used by private insurers to determine which vaccines to pay for, but the Obama administration’s Fed-Med legislation of 2010 requires insurers participating in health exchanges to offer vaccines recommended by the committee. The Wall Street Journal wrote in 2007 that widespread use of the drug would guarantee the drug maker billions of dollars in annual revenue.
Vaccination rates in girls have remained relatively low, as parents balked when reports were released about the lack of substantive testing on the drug, coupled with the motivating profitability factors for the drug manufacturer. So boys are the next best option for Merck & Co.
This excellent editorial on Gardasil appeared n the Journal of the American Medical Association, declaring that “serious questions regarding the overall effectiveness of the vaccine” needed to be answered and that more long-term studies were called for. The article concludes with this cogent observation: “When weighing evidence about risks and benefits, it is also appropriate to ask who takes the risk, and who gets the benefit. Patients and the public logically expect that only medical and scientific evidence is put on the balance. If other matters weigh in, such as profit for a company or financial or professional gains for physicians or groups of physicians, the balance is easily skewed. The balance will also tilt if the adverse events are not calculated correctly.”