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Is Gardasil Helping Merck Pay for Vioxx Lawsuits?

Why do some folks think that the Gardasil vaccine is being pushed to help Merck pay for their Vioxx lawsuits?

The latest anti-vax conspiracy theory from Bobby Kennedy.
The latest anti-vax conspiracy theory from Bobby Kennedy.

The usual suspects…

Is Gardasil Helping Merck Pay for Vioxx Lawsuits?

Could it be true?

“Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck has agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who claim they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug, according to two lawyers with direct knowledge of the matter.”

Merck Agrees to Settle Vioxx Suits for $4.85 Billion

Merck settled most of those lawsuits in 2007.

“But for Merck, which has already spent more than $1.2 billion on Vioxx-related legal fees, the settlement will put to rest any fears that Vioxx lawsuits might bankrupt the company, or even have a significant financial impact. While eye-popping, the settlement payment represents less than one year’s profits for the company, the third-largest American drug maker.”

Merck Agrees to Settle Vioxx Suits for $4.85 Billion

All together, Merck has paid more than $8.5 billion to settle litigation and pay fines and legal costs.

“Merck’s recovery is proceeding as planned. The stock is up from $44 when we wrote about it to just shy of $55 on Oct. 22, a gain of nearly 25%. The latest push came from strong third-quarter earnings aided by robust sales of Gardasil, new diabetes pill Januvia, and asthma drug Singulair. The company’s cost-cutting program also helped.”

Update: Merck recovers from Vioxx

And they long ago recovered from the lawsuits, with their stock price now at about $87, reaching multi-year highs.

Is Gardasil driving their profits?

“Our performance in 2007 shows that the customer-focused, more efficient business model we began implementing more than two years ago is working,” said Richard T. Clark, chairman, president and chief executive officer. “We have a strong portfolio of products, a robust pipeline of potential new therapies and a leadership team focused daily on improving operational performance. This positions us to build on our record of delivering essential breakthrough medicines and vaccines like JANUVIA, ISENTRESS and GARDASIL to the global marketplace.”

Merck Announces 2007 Financial Results Reflecting Revenue Growth from Key Products

It certainly didn’t hurt, but Merck’s biggest seller is now the “blockbuster” cancer drug Keytruda.

Back in 2007, it was Singulair, which is now generic.

Gardasil makes up a smaller percentage of Merck’s total sales.

Anyway, profits from Gardasil have been rising in recent years because of sales in China and Europe, not mandates in the United States.

  • Keytruda – $3.07 billion in the last quarter
  • Gardasil / Gardasil 9 – $1.32 billion
  • Januvia / Janumet – $1.31 billion
  • Proquad/M-M-R II/ Varivax – $623 million
  • Bridion – $280 million
  • Isentress / Isentress HD – $250 million
  • Nuvaring – $241 million
  • Pneumovax 23 – $237 million
  • Simponi – $203 million
  • Implanon / Nexplanon – $199 million

But did Merck really have a “HPV: Help Pay for Vioxx” plan?

Where is the document from Merck that says "this time we have no liability and we can't get caught?"
Where is the document from Merck that says “this time we have no liability and we can’t get caught?”

Did their recovery require Gardasil becoming mandatory around the world?

Kennedy’s Help Pay for Vioxx Bombshell is a Dud

With just a little research, it is easy to review Merck’s plan after Vioxx.

“I tell the (Merck) organization if you want Vioxx off the front page, if you want it out of the news, we have to put Gardasil on the front page and have to put Januvia on the front page,” Richard Clark, Merck’s CEO said at the Reuters Summit in New York on Wednesday.

It included closing five manufacturing plants and 3 research laboratories and laying off 11 percent of its work force. And introducing new drugs and vaccines, including Januvia, Isentress, Keytruda, and yes, Gardasil.

But since there are currently mandates for Gardasil in just two states, Rhode Island and Virginia, and the District of Columbia, it is pretty obvious that their recovery didn’t hinge on vaccine mandates.

Still, since Gardasil is approved and recommended for children when they are 11 to 12 years old, it shouldn’t be surprising that Merck did lobby state legislatures to make it mandatory, like other vaccines that are needed to attend school.

And as much as folks like Bobby Kennedy wish there was a new scandal, it is very easy to see that Merck is doing well because they have a vaccine that prevents cancer, a drug that treats cancer, and other important products.

“One activist who frequently criticizes pharmaceutical companies, Vera Hassner Sharav, and a co-author suggested that the H.P.V. vaccine stood for a campaign to “Help Pay for Vioxx” losses. “

Furor on Rush to Require Cervical Cancer Vaccine

What’s really surprising is that Bobby Kennedy‘s bombshell “Help Pay for Vioxx” idea isn’t even new.

“A fourth factor that soured many policymakers on mandates was consternation over the involvement of the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, in the policy process. Merck undertook a multifaceted marketing campaign to promote the passage of mandate legislation. Representatives of the company met with legislators and hired political consultants to promote the vaccine. Merck also provided unrestricted funds to Women in Government, a national organization of female legislators. Many of the bills to require HPV vaccination were introduced by Women in Government members.

Although Merck’s lobbying was a key catalyst in the initial push for mandates, many stakeholders came to view the company’s efforts as a liability. As media coverage called attention to the company’s aggressive tactics, suspicion grew that policy decisions were not being based on the product’s merits, and people who were otherwise supportive pulled back. The belief that mandate bills were an effort to make money for the company overshadowed whatever principled arguments might exist for them.”

Colgrove et al on HPV Vaccination Mandates — Lawmaking amid Political and Scientific Controversy

An article in the New York Times talked about it way back in 2007…

Merck is doing very well even though Gardasil is only mandated in two states and Washington D.C.
Merck is doing very well even though Gardasil is only mandated in two states and Washington D.C.

It sure does sound scarier to say that you discovered all of this during a lawsuit instead of a simple Google search though. But that’s how propaganda works.

#SaidNoDoctor, except Dr. Jay Gordon, who made this statement about the HPV vaccine on the Ricki Lake Show.
#SaidNoDoctor, except Dr. Jay Gordon, who made this statement about the HPV vaccine on the Ricki Lake Show. Although he says he has changed his mind and now recommends it, how many kids weren’t vaccinated and are at risk to develop cervical cancer because their parents listened to him and they weren’t vaccinated?

Fortunately, many parents aren’t buying it anymore.

“Coverage estimates for HPV vaccination are low despite evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. This large pool of unvaccinated adolescents in the United States means that considerable public health benefits are not being realized; many vaccine-preventable cancers caused by HPV will occur… Mandating HPV vaccination for school entry is a move that will protect the public’s health by preventing HPV-related morbidity and mortality.”

Barraza et al on Human Papillomavirus and Mandatory Immunization Laws

They know that HPV vaccines are safe, with few risks, and more and more are vaccinating their kids, although even more kids would get vaccinated and protected if Gardasil was finally mandated like other vaccines.

More on Gardasil and Vioxx Lawsuits

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