Promotion of Gardasil questioned

Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: If you have a young daughter, you're probably familiar with the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil. It's already been given to millions of teenage girls to protect them against a virus known as HPV. And millions more are expected to get the shot. Yesterday, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that there are side-effects from the vaccine. Nothing terribly unusual. But the Journal did find something unusual in the marketing of the vaccine. Joel Rose reports.


JOEL ROSE: The article says three professional medical associations, or PMAs, talked up the benefits of Gardasil and downplayed the side effects, just like Merck's own marketing campaign to introduce the vaccine. Co-author Sheila Rothman teaches public health at Columbia University.

SHEILA Rothman: The mission of PMAs is really education, writing guidelines. Not just promoting a product. That's what happened here was this blurring that went on.

A Merck spokesperson declined to be interviewed for this story. The company acknowledges putting up the money for educational materials. Though Merck says there were no strings attached, and it never told the medical associations what to say. But the article's authors say that's still a conflict of interest.

DAVID ROTHMAN: The cliche is true: The piper calls the tune.

David Rothman also teaches at Columbia. He co-wrote the JAMA article with his wife.

ROTHMAN: If you're dependant on a company to support your activity, consciously or not, you will do everything you can to keep that company in favor with you.

Earlier this year, David Rothman proposed that professional associations try to wean themselves completely of funding from drug companies. That's a laudable goal in principle, says Ted Epperly, president of the American Association of Family Doctors. But in practice...

TED EPPERLY: Zero I think is probably an idealistic goal, that's just not quite honestly achievable.

Epperly says it's more reasonable for professional associations to keep drug-company funding to a minimum -- and always disclose who's paying for what.

I'm Joel Rose, for Marketplace.

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