Physician Groups and the Marketing of the Gardasil Vaccine

August 19, 2009

Congratulations to Sheila and David Rothman of Columbia University for today’s important analysis of the behind-the-scenes “education” campaign waged by Merck to gain widespread use of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which guards against cervical cancer in later life. Here’s the link to the full text article if you have a subscription to the Journal of the American Medical Association. There are links to several news reports about the story to the left (in the “Best of the Web” feature). And here’s the abstract:

Marketing HPV Vaccine: Implications for Adolescent Health and Medical Professionalism

Sheila M. Rothman, PhD; David J. Rothman, PhD

JAMA. 2009;302(7):781-786.

The new vaccine against 4 types of human papillomavirus (HPV), Gardasil, like other immunizations appears to be a cost-effective intervention with the potential to enhance both adolescent health and the quality of their adult lives. However, the messages and the methods by which the vaccine was marketed present important challenges to physician practice and medical professionalism. By making the vaccine’s target disease cervical cancer, the sexual transmission of HPV was minimized, the threat of cervical cancer to adolescents was maximized, and the subpopulations most at risk practically ignored. The vaccine manufacturer also provided educational grants to professional medical associations (PMAs) concerned with adolescent and women’s health and oncology. The funding encouraged many PMAs to create educational programs and product-specific speakers’ bureaus to promote vaccine use. However, much of the material did not address the full complexity of the issues surrounding the vaccine and did not provide balanced recommendations on risks and benefits. As important and appropriate as it is for PMAs to advocate for vaccination as a public good, their recommendations must be consistent with appropriate and cost-effective use.

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