Merck faces opposition over HPV drug efforts

NEW YORK: A backlash from parents' rights groups could hamper Merck's lobbying efforts as it attempts to get its HPV vaccine Gardasil mandated in a number of states across the country, experts said.

NEW YORK: A backlash from parents' rights groups could hamper Merck's lobbying efforts as it attempts to get its HPV vaccine Gardasil mandated in a number of states across the country, experts said.

Legislation that would require girls to get the Merck vaccine is currently being considered in 26 states, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. But there have been several indications of the effort slowing following controversy earlier this month after Texas Gov. Rick Perry bypassed the state legislature there and mandated the vaccine for girls by executive order.

"I wouldn't be surprised if [the outcry] slowed down other states," said Diane Farsetta, senior researcher at Center for Media and Democracy. "The way it came about in Texas, by executive order, I think that gives it this top-down aggressive look that other states are likely to try to avoid."

Dawn Richardson, president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education, said the nonprofit is currently working with a coalition of legislators in Texas who are fighting the governor's decision and she still hopes to have a debate on the matter.

Critics also alleged that Women in Government, one of the key groups pushing a mandate, is biased because Merck is one of its current funders.

"Ordinary parents are up against a well-financed, coordinated PR campaign and an organized lobbying campaign. I have never seen a more organized introduction of mandates in states," said Barbara Low Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center.

Fisher said her group is working to ensure parents have the information they need to make an educated decision about whether the vaccine should be required, making information available on its Web site and putting out a press release on the issue.

Women in Government declined to talk about its relationship with Merck, referring request to comment to a statement, which read, in part, "We believe that adding the HPV vaccine to the list of required immunizations for school entry is an effective way to ensure that as many girls as possible are given access to this lifesaving technology... There are many state legislators around the country who share this belief and our interest in the opportunity to eliminate a major women's cancer."

Merck did not return calls seeking comment on its lobbying efforts.

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