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Merck ends vaccine lobbying effort

Doctor groups, parents hit mandates for girls

Gardasil guards against a virus that can cause cervical cancer. Gardasil guards against a virus that can cause cervical cancer. (harry cabluck/associated press)

TRENTON, N.J. -- Bowing to pressure from parents and medical groups, Merck & Co. is suspending its lobbying campaign to persuade legislatures to mandate that adolescent girls get the company's vaccine against cervical cancer as a requirement to attend school.

The drug maker, which disclosed the change late yesterday, had been criticized for quietly funding the campaign, via a third party, to require 11- and 12-year-old girls get the three-dose vaccine in order to attend school.

Some had objected because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted disease, human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Vaccines mandated for school attendance usually prevent diseases spread through casual contact, such as measles and mumps.

"Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil," said Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines .

"We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts," Haupt said, adding the company will continue providing information about the vaccine if asked by officials.

Merck began selling Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, in June. Sales totaled $235 million through 2006, according to Merck.

Last month, the AP reported that Merck was channeling money for its campaign through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators across the country.

No legislatures have mandated girls get the vaccine to attend school. However, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order Feb. 2 requiring that schoolgirls get the vaccinations .