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How Dangerous Are Merck's Thought Police

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According to an internal training manual, Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and the maker of the controversial new vaccine for children, Gardasil, has a highly sophisticated sales group dedicated to "managing" the thoughts and voices of influential doctors in America; a de facto thought police. [*]

Gardasil is touted by the FDA and Merck as a vaccine to prevent cervical cancers associated with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).  In the past few months, Merck has unleashed a firestorm of criticism when it was revealed that the company had funded a nonprofit group of state lawmakers, Women in Government, who were using their clout to get state legislation introduced across the country to mandate the vaccine for 11 and 12 year old school girls. The stated premise was that it would be most effective if given before girls became sexually active. Safety advocates countered that the vaccine's efficacy was never studied on this age population and clinical trials on safety issues were studied on just a few hundred 11 and 12 year old girls.  Additional researchers have noted, correctly, that HPV related cervical lesions take 8 to 12 years or longer to develop into cervical cancer and since Merck only conducted clinical trials for 5 years or less, there is no conclusive evidence that this vaccine will prevent cervical cancer.

 

The thought police documents are part of a trove of confidential internal Merck marketing strategies demanded by Congress to determine how sales of Merck's last big blockbuster, Vioxx, continued to skyrocket in sales long after evidence of heart attacks and strokes emerged.  The documents reveal an Orwellian marketing concept that goes like this: a team of "Specialty Representatives" gather intelligence on every aspect that motivates influential doctors in their assigned territories.  Once this information is developed, these Merck intelligence officers narrow the data down to the key "drivers" of "beliefs and behaviors," then provide inducements to turn the doctors into "Advocates" for Merck products.

 

Merck has a revealing lexicon for this intelligence gathering and inducement strategy: influential doctors are called "thought leaders," and defined as doctors who, "due to their ability to influence their peers, drive therapeutic business at the national, regional or local level." 

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Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years and has been an activist for reform for the past ten years. She now writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire.

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