Political Intrigue in Merck's HPV Vaccine Push

ByABC News
February 20, 2007, 6:11 PM

Feb. 22, 2007— -- The manufacturer of Gardasil, the first-ever vaccine shown to prevent cervical cancer, is facing growing opposition to the product's widespread use among pre-teen girls.

But many of the problems are political, not medical. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff met with key aides about the human papillomavirus vaccine the same day drug giant Merck & Co, the manufacturer of the vaccine, donated several thousand dollars to his campaign.

Chief of staff Deirdre Delisi's calendar shows she met with the governor's budget director and three members of his office for an "HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing" on Oct. 16, according to The AP report. That same day, the documents show, Merck's political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry and $5,000 total to eight state lawmakers.

The revelation may provide ammunition to those in many states who oppose mandatory vaccination campaigns for pre-teen girls. On Wednesday, a House committee voted to rescind Perry's executive order requiring vaccination for girls in Texas.

Meanwhile, conservative family groups in Minnesota have criticized similar proposed requirements there, maintaining that such a plan would encourage promiscuity.

And in Connecticut, state health officials say they are concerned similar proposed legislation would be premature, citing a lack of available safety data.

The developments have added a new round of political heat that Merck had sought to avoid. Merck announced Feb. 20 that it would suspend its own campaign urging states to implement mandatory vaccination programs for pre-teen girls with its human papillomavirus vaccine.

In its announcement, Merck said it made the move to avoid having its campaign take attention away from the bills being drafted in several states that would make the vaccine mandatory for pre-teen girls.

"We do not want any misperception about Merck's role to distract from the ultimate goal of fighting cervical cancer, so Merck has re-evaluated its approach at the state level and we will not lobby for school requirements for Gardasil," said Mary Elizabeth Blake, senior director of public affairs for the Merck vaccine division, in a prepared, e-mailed statement.