Let's Use Teenage Girls As Lab Rats For a Monopoly

A lot has been written recently about Rick Perry’s decision to require girls to get the HPV vaccine. He now says he made a mistake and should have made it opt in, instead of opt out. It is worth nothing that, contrary to a lot of reports, there was an opt-out provision.

Nonetheless, while everyone is writing about it right now, I wrote about it back in 2007 when the fight was actually happening. You can read it here but since the site is loading slowly, I’ve reposted below the fold.

I stand by my post made at the time. I’d also note that by the time I wrote the post in July of 2007, the issue was already moot in Texas. Perry had backed down under legislative pressure well before then. Hat tip to WILLisms for reminding me of that fact in the comments.

By the way, you know what’s funny about this? About three weeks ago I was on Anderson Cooper’s show and said that this very issue would be one of the most significant stumbling blocks Rick Perry would face early on. The lady I was on with, I think from Center for American Progress, laughed and was surprised I thought it was a big deal.

In other words, this issue only really resonates on the right.

Let’s Use Teenage Girls As Lab Rats For a Monopoly
It is the 100th anniversary of eugenics after all

Originally posted July 7, 2007

This has been discussed a bit here, but today the Wall Street Journal is running this article (subscription required) on states requiring girls to get the HPV vaccine. What I didn’t know was that the effort at the state level corresponds to Merck Pharmaceutical’s lobbying efforts. Merck has a monopoly on the vaccine and the vaccine is more expensive than vaccines like the MMR shot.

From the article:

Bills being drafted in some 20 U.S. states that would make a cervical-cancer vaccine mandatory for preteen girls are sparking a backlash among parents and consumer advocates.

The bills coincide with an aggressive lobbying campaign by Merck & Co., the maker of the only such vaccine on the market. Called Gardasil, the three-shot regimen provides protection against the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that is responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer.

If the state bills become law, they would guarantee the Whitehouse Station, N.J., drug maker billions of dollars in annual revenue from the vaccine.

I’m not one of those unabomber types that lives in the woods and refuses to comply with mandatory vaccination laws for my children. But, let’s be clear here — this vaccine is not needed to stop a readily communicable disease like chicken pox or measles or mumps, etc. The disease in question, HPV, is spread by sexual conduct. It sometimes causes cervical cancer. And the vaccine does not even prevent all strains of HPV. Again from the article:

Merck says cervical cancer is the second-leading cancer among women around the world, but the disease’s prevalence is actually low in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that 11,150 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,670 will die from it in the U.S. this year. That’s equivalent to 0.77% of cancers diagnosed in the U.S. and 0.65% of U.S. cancer deaths each year. By comparison, the society estimates that 178,480 American women will get diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and 40,460 will die from it.

I think a responsible parent might want to get the vaccine for their daughter. But I don’t think it is sound public policy to be forcing the profit stream of a pharmaceutical company onto an unwilling public when the company has a monopoly on the drug and seems clearly to be behind the efforts to get these laws passed.

Lastly, the drug just came out. Do we really want to forcibly treat school girls as guinea pigs for Merck when the majority of them probably will never even need the vaccine or get the disease the vaccine hopes to prevent? And Merck does not even know if booster shots will be needed later in life. The drug is that new. In fact, it hasn’t even been fully tested on children and doesn’t wipe out all strains of HPV, and the risk of pelvic disease has doubled in those who have had the vaccine. Oh, and boys aren’t getting the vaccine despite the fact that they also can contract the virus.

This gives me the creeps. With the 100th anniversary of eugenics being remembered in the country, it just gives me the creeps that we might be forcing teenagers to serve as guinea pigs for a new drug held monopolistically by Merck that probably is not needed for most of them — but we’re doing it for the children.

Sure, it sounds good. It sounds like an excellent idea. But the lobbying by Merck behind the proposal and the fact that the drug is so new and prevents a virus that is not nearly as communicably infectious as standard mandatory vaccines gives me pause. No doubt we might all decide that this is sound public policy. But why rush into with the lobbyists pushing for it when we can, right now, educate parents and let them decide.