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One Less: The Gardasil Marketing Machine
February 26, 2008, 8:32 pm
Filed under: 2008

Merck’s Gardasil is the vaccine that purports to guard against diseases that are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) Types 6, 11, 16, and 18. It’s been greeted by immense relief from soccer moms and often mandated vaccinations in school boards across North America, moral panics by religious groups who feel the vaccine will encourage non-abstinence, and cautious skepticism by some feminists and medical experts.

The marketing is pretty interesting, ‘One Less’ serving as the slogan for the print and television ads which feature a multicultural cast of young, spirited, sporty, funky and feisty young women:

Then there’s the ‘Tell Someone’ Merck site.

Students tell me that Merck supplied the ‘back to school’ Concordia student package that features the usual razors, condoms (I assume?) , agendas and discount coupons, with a backpack – I’ve seen a woman in the metro with one (it’s too small to hold anything substantial, and the word Gardasil is on it – I think a pale grey color). You can even create and send e-cards about Gardasil thanks to American Greetings! (see

From Judith Siers-Poisson at PR Watch bout the politics, profits and PR of cervical cancer:

In nearly every state in the U.S. there is a legislative push to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for middle school aged girls, with catch-up clauses to cover girls that have passed that age but are not yet sexually active. Given the anxiety of most people about cancer and the number of people infected with HPV, it is not surprising that what is touted as the first vaccine against cancer has been largely greeted with acclaim. But despite having been affected personally, I became concerned by the headlong rush to not only approve the vaccine, but to mandate it for middle-school aged girls. It is also worrisome that a vaccine may give a false sense of security, which could lead to a decline in the very reliable and proven diagnostic tools available, including Pap tests. Decisions affecting millions of young women should not be made lightly, and certainly not without examining the marketing, PR, and profit motives of a corporation like Merck.

From Macleans Magazine: Interview with McGill Professor Abby Lippman about Gardasil:

What’s the goal of spending all this money? When people tell me it’s because we don’t want people to die of cervical cancer, I need to say: “Take a deep breath.” Yes, 400 women may die of cervical cancer this year, and that’s 400 too many. But we do have a few things in place. One, most women [90 per cent] who are affected by the human papillomavirus clear it by themselves in one or two years. So as long as we’re healthy, in good shape, we have good nutrition, we’re not smoking, we’re practicing safer sex and so on, that’s number one.

And, the Abstinence Clearinghouse Blog

HPV is a Sexually Transmitted Disease that can lead to cervical cancer. That is a fact. But how does someone obtain any kind of STD in the first place? In a monogamous relationship, where sex is saved for marriage?

Probably not.

And, in the Sunday NY Times of Feb 24, Vaccinating Boys for Girls’ Sake?

…someone’s missing from this grrlpower tableau.

Ah, that would be Gardasil Boy.

Gardasil Girl’s cancer-related virus? Sexually transmitted. She almost certainly got it from him.

So far, Gardasil is approved just for girls. They can be vaccinated when they are as young as 9, although it’s recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds, before they are sexually active.

As the commercials show, the pitch to Gardasil Girl’s parents doesn’t need to address sex: it’s about protecting their daughter from a cancer.

By 2009, the vaccine could be approved for boys as well. Although Gardasil also protects against genital warts, which are not life-threatening, the primary reason to extend approval to boys would be to slow the rates of cervical cancer. Public health folks charmlessly call this “herd immunity.”

Will parents of sons consent to a three-shot regimen that has been marketed as benefiting girls? How do you pitch that to Gardasil Boy’s parents?

Think altruism. Responsibility. Chivalry, even? Oh, and yes: some explicit details about genital warts and sexual transmission…

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