There are few things more egregious in the vaccine risk-aware community right now than the HPV vaccine and its tsunami of marketing efforts, targeting one of the biggest fears the American people have: cancer.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection, which generally presents no symptoms and clears spontaneously in most people who have it. Only a small percentage go on to ever have problems for which the U.S. has robust screening and treatment programs available. Deaths from cervical cancer are relatively low, which is not to diminish the devastation caused to families affected by this horrific disease.
Despite the over-reaching promises that this vaccine would prevent cancer (Merck has never demonstrated this), with campaigns like “Be One Less,” the vaccine has failed to take a foothold in the mainstream pro-vaccine psyche with “unacceptably low” vaccination levels. There are many reasons, but for me the main one, and the one that Merck, the WHO, CDC and the FDA fails to acknowledge, is the many stories of injuries circulating around the globe. They are trying their best to counter the ever-growing grassroots alarm bells with frightening cancer prevalence statistics at every chance they get, but it’s not working. Vaccine mandates loom in many states, but so far, parents have kept them at bay in 47 of them.
Enter a newer stealth marketing strategy, employing the unequivocal endorsement of various medical professional bodies to push the vaccine on the public from every vantage point. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and even the American Dental Association, to name a few, have all come out with press releases or updated mission statements touting the vaccine as their singular recommendation for good health practice for HPV-related cancer prevention. This recommendation has supplanted educating their patients about avoiding all risk factors, which used to be the norm, and some would say, most risk averse.
I don’t mean to sound like I suspect that there’s some conspiracy here and that Merck is somehow in bed with these reputable organizations in order to sell its drugs and vaccines; I’m saying it’s their business model. Merck pays scientists and doctors all over the world to speak on their behalf, to conduct studies, to analyze market data, and to appear in the media to promote and support the infallibility of their products. Merck also funnels money into medical research, universities, hospitals and even politicians’ coffers. And nowhere has this been more blatant than with Gardasil and Merck’s long-time investment in Women in Government. WIG provides its members with a plug-and-play legislative toolkitto assist in implementing state Gardasil mandates. There’s no man behind the curtain; it’s all out there, hidden in plain sight.
This business model seeks out the collaboration of institutions who have direct influence on those who can actually deliver products directly to customers—practicing doctors—and seamlessly increase the bottom line. After all, the only population Merck has a duty of care to is its shareholders.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is already firmly on board with recommending the HPV vaccine to every one of its patients over the age of nine. But there is another as-yet untapped sales force: the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).
In 2012, ACOG partnered with “Merck For Mothers” to launch “Saving Mothers,” a noble cause focused on making labor and delivery safer for women in developing nations. (Incidentally, if you have $750 to spare, our old friend from the CDC, Julie Gerberding, is being honored by the NY Academy of Medicine for her work at Merck for Mothers on June 13th, another major medical academy alliance).