AP examines Merck vaccine lobbying efforts

Merck has been quietly lobbying through a women’s advocacy group to pass state laws requiring girls to get its HPV vaccine Gardasil, the Associated Press reports. Merck has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country, according to the report. A top official from Merck’s vaccine division sits on the business council of Women in Government, whose members have introduced many of the bills around the country proposing required vaccination for schoolgirls. At least 18 states are debating whether to require the vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. A Michigan bill was narrowly defeated last month. Most have opt-out clauses for parents. Merck would not say how much the company is spending on lobbyists or how much it has donated to Women in Government. A company spokesperson told the AP, “We disclosed the fact that we provide funding to this organization. We're not in any way trying to obscure that.” While this method of lobbying is common in state government, some conservative groups take issue. “It’s corrupt as far as I’m concerned,” said Cathie Adams, president of the conservative watchdog group Texas Eagle Forum. In Texas, where mandatory vaccination will be a tough sell, Merck has doubled its spending on lobbyists in this year, to between $150,000 and $250,000, the AP wrote. The company also hired as a lobbyist a former chief of staff for Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Merck stands to make billions in sales if Gardasil, which costs $360 for the three-shot regimen, becomes mandatory across the country. Most insurance companies now cover the vaccine. Approved by the FDA in June, Gardasil protects girls and women against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. A government advisory panel has recommended that all girls get the shots at 11 and 12, before they are likely to be sexually active. It has been shown to have no serious side effects.