Is HPV Vaccine Benefit Exaggerated?
Experts Debate Whether Gardasil Marketing Clouds Risk/Benefit Decision
WebMD News Archive
Gardasil Oversold by Medical Groups?
Columbia University researchers Sheila Rothman, PhD, and David Rothman, PhD,
suggest that at least three medical associations used funds and other
assistance from Merck to create educational materials for non-specialist
doctors that promoted Gardasil.
"Doctors may not know that this education is not being done by a group of
experts in the field but that it is all being orchestrated by the drug
company," Sheila Rothman tells WebMD.
Stewart Massad, MD, ethics chair for the American Society for Colposcopy and
Cervical Pathology -- one of the groups named by the Rothmans -- says that
although the Rothmans are right that his group supports HPV vaccination, they
are wrong to say Merck wrote their educational materials.
"HPV vaccine is a revolutionary advance that promises to change the way
cervical cancer is prevented," Massad tells WebMD. "We thought our members
needed to know about it. We sought funding from elsewhere, but we were not able
to find nonprofit or government funding to fill the costs. We disclosed Merck's
support in all the materials we distributed, and Merck had no role in writing
them. They signed off on the concept but were not allowed to have any input on
material that was developed."
The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists said in a statement provided to WebMD
that its materials are unbiased. The third group named by the Rothmans, the
American College Health Association, did not respond to WebMD's request for
But the Rothmans' article suggests that these medical associations
overemphasized the risk posed by HPV and overstated the scientific evidence
supporting Gardasil's ability to prevent cancer.
"The fact is that most of the HPV infections are symptomless; most of it
goes away by itself," Rothman says. "Only 10% of infections go on to become
lesions. Yes, we have causative agent and a disease. But it is not a straight
line to get there. And what the company did was create a straight line and get
the organizations to go along with it and legitimize it."
Richard M. Haupt, MD, MPH, Merck's executive director of clinical research,
says Rothman is wrong.