Merck Ends Lobby for Mandatory Cervical Cancer Vaccinations

Drugmaker Merck & Co. said it would stop lobbying state legislatures to make it mandatory for schoolgirls to be inoculated with its new cervical cancer vaccine.

The company said it made the decision after re-evaluating its lobbying program, which has generated fierce debate with some religious organizations saying it could encourage promiscuity and parents groups questioning the need for such a widespread vaccination program.

Merck's Gardasil is the first and only vaccine against cervical cancer.
Approved in 2006 for females aged 9 to 26, it works against strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases.

Earlier this month, Texas became the first U.S. state to require that all 11- and 12-year-old girls be vaccinated against HPV. Republican Gov. Rick Perry said parents could opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their children if they objected for reasons including religious beliefs.

About 20 U.S. states had been considering mandating the vaccine, many for girls before they entered the sixth grade. The vaccine, given in a series of three injections at a price of $360, has been endorsed by medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In December, Merck said it was looking into providing Gardasil at much lower prices in developing countries and to make it available within months.

Richard Haupt, executive director of medical affairs for vaccines at Merck, said the media publicity had become a "potential distraction" that was interfering with the company's objective of promoting widespread use of the product.

"We've reevaluated our position, but certainly plan to continue education efforts in different venues, such as with legislators, health departments and coalition groups in various states," Haupt said.

The company reaffirmed it continues to expect combined revenue this year of $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion from its array of vaccines, including ones to prevent shingles and infections with rotavirus.

GlaxoSmithKline is expected to file in April for U.S. regulatory approval for its cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix. Cervical cancer kills some 300,000 women worldwide each year.