Cervical cancer vaccination plan under scrutiny

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Two pharmaceutical companies have been accused of using illegal means to advertise their respective cervical cancer vaccines.

20 October 2008

THE NETHERLANDS -- Sanofi Pasteur MSD and GlaxoSmithKline have come under scrutiny for allegedly using inadmissible practices to promote their respective cervical cancer vaccines.

A weekend raid on the offices of the two pharmaceutical companies by the health care inspectorate seized documents and correspondence on the promotion of the companies’ cervical cancer vaccines.

The two companies are suspected of advertising prescribed medicines and giving doctors inducements to promote their vaccines – both activities which are forbidden in the Netherlands.

Dutch Health Minister Ab Klink plans to introduce a vaccination programme for all girls aged 12 in September 2009. However, experts doubt the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccine. They say the vaccine was introduced too quickly and there was no large-scale research conducted.  

In Sunday's current affairs television programme Zembla, Prof. F. van Leeuwen of the Dutch Cancer Institute said: "We don't know yet whether the vaccine actually prevents cervical cancer, we don't know whether it has serious side effects and we don't know whether we need to repeat vaccination jabs. As long as it's not been proved that the vaccine prevents cancer, it remains an experiment."

However, anxious parents have gone ahead to vaccine their daughters against the disease without waiting for a government vaccination scheme. They pay EUR 125 for three jabs. Figures show that at least 12,000 teenage girls have received the vaccination.

Trouw reported on Saturday that Sanofi Pasteur MSD and GlaxoSmithKline have lobbied intensively as they are anxious to win the lion's share of the market.

 There was even a television advertising campaign under the motto: "Mothers, protect your daughters".

Sanofi held meetings throughout the country to inform parents and girls about cervical cancer. At two secondary schools, letters were circulated, blatantly advertising the vaccine Gardasil. But the paper says Sanofi denies sending them.

Dutch advisory body hit by funding scandal
Meanwhile, the Netherlands Health Council members have been accused of receiving funding from pharmaceutical companies.

The independent Dutch advisory body advises the Dutch government on public health issues. In March it advised Health Minister Ab Klink that girls should be vaccinated against cervical cancer. At the same time, its members were apparently receiving funding from the vaccines' manufacturers.

Trouw and Zembla both report that doctors and researchers on the council have received research funding from pharmaceutical companies and could be dismissed from the council for having a conflict of interests.

Since 2007, the Health Care Inspectorate can impose fines on companies which break the rules.

According to Trouw, 11 cases have been drafted against Sanofi Pasteur MSD and GlaxoSmithKline for offences including advertising prescribed medicines and giving doctors inducements. In three of these, each fine could be between EUR 30,000 and EUR 150,000.

The Socialist Party is demanding a parliamentary debate on the issue. The party's chairperson Agnes Kant accuses the companies of being too aggressive in their marketing and their efforts to influence decision-making.

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica]

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