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ECONOMICS REPORT - Maker of Cervical Cancer Vaccine Stops Pushing to Require It for Girls

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This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

This week, the drug company Merck announced that it would end a lobbying campaign for Gardasil, its new vaccine for girls and women.

Bottles of Gardasil
Bottles of Gardasil

The vaccine is designed to protect against four kinds of human papillomavirus, or HPV. These cause about seventy percent of cervical cancers and ninety percent of genital warts.

The development of the vaccine has been widely praised. But Merck faced growing criticism for its push for states to require schoolgirls to be vaccinated with Gardasil. The company says the criticism was interfering with its goal of widespread use of the vaccine.

The United States Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil last June for females age nine to twenty-six.

At least twenty of the fifty state legislatures have begun to consider some form of Gardasil requirement. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has ordered that beginning in two thousand eight, girls eleven and twelve years old must be vaccinated with Gardasil. But parents could choose not to, if they object for religious or other reasons.

Critics said politicians were moving too fast. And they accused Mister Perry of being too close to Merck. The company had given money to his re-election campaign. And his former chief of staff is now a Merck lobbyist in Texas.

Critics said the lobbying campaign for required use of Gardasil created a conflict of interest for Merck. Gardasil is a lot more costly than other childhood vaccinations. The vaccine is given as three injections over a six-month period; the complete series cost more than three hundred fifty dollars.

There were also objections on legal and moral grounds. Some parents argued that since HPV is passed during sex, required use of Gardasil might lead to greater sexual activity among young people. Others say required use would violate privacy rights.

Other critics called for more study of Gardasil, especially in younger girls. They note that during studies of the vaccine, ninety-five percent of the subjects were females sixteen and older.

Cervical cancer rates have been dropping in the United States. On average three thousand seven hundred women die from it each year. But cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in poor countries.

In December, Merck said it would work toward providing Gardasil to those countries at a lower price.

Merck competitor GlaxoSmithKline is expected to request federal approval of its own cervical cancer vaccine in April.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.

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