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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Does Merck Need a Vaccine for Bad PR?

You've got to feel sorry for Merck and its PR people -- not too sorry, however: Merck raised its 2007 forecasts yesterday and Shares of Merck were up $1.07, or 2.5%.

First, Merck got caught again with its hand in the cookie jar -- actually, it got caught opening its Gardasil lobbying cookie jar to politicians' hands (see "Who's Easier to Buy? A Physician or a Politician?").

Then, Merck's PR people had to work overtime putting a positive spin on a just-published study showing that the number of women exposed to the HPV viruse strains that are thought to cause cervical cancer is about half what Merck estimated it was:
"The study appearing today in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at U.S. females aged 14 to 59. The combined prevalence of two high-risk strains of HPV, types 16 and 18, was about 2% in that population, which the paper called "relatively low," compared with other estimates..." (see "Higher Rate of Cervical HPV Found" -- don't be led astray by this article's title; the positive spin shows whose side WSJ is on.)
This does not help its case for mandatory Gardasil vaccinations; but it may have little effect on future sales of Gardasil.

It could be -- as I said before -- that all this attention brought on by the lobbying PR snafu is actually helping sales of Gardasil. Or, maybe we haven't yet seen the negative effects of bad publicity work its way through the sales cycle yet. But Merck seems optimistic.

So, was it bad PR or not?

Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe seems to think it was bad and that drug companies need a vaccine for bad PR:
"Hasn't anyone ever told drug companies to put a warning label on their lobbying? You know, the kind you find on every little prescription bottle? Caution: Too much lobbying might result in an overdose of suspicion. Push too hard and you might experience political acid reflux." (See "Goodman: What Merck needs is vaccine for bad PR".)
Well, there's lobbying and then there's PR -- let's make that distinction. Any pharmaceutical exec will claim that both are educational activities. Lobbying, however, has a payola element to it as well. which is what got Merck into hot water.

Goodman claims that the "bad" PR harmed Merck's cause. In fact, Goodman claims "the real losers may be girls and women who need access to the vaccine against cervical cancer."

How are they losing? Nobody's stopping girls from getting vaccinated. In fact, all the publicity has made Gardasil a household word and more people than ever know about the vaccine and the link between HPV and cervical cancer. From that point of view, all the hullabaloo has achieved a level of awareness that no multi-million dollar disease education campaign could ever hope to do. And Merck got this windfall on the cheap (see "Who's Easier to Buy? A Physician or a Politician?").

This may be why Merck is so optimistic and is making such rosy forecasts to Wall Street analysts!

What do you think? Participate in the following poll and let me know.


Will the Controversy Over Mandatory Vaccination Help or Hurt Gardasil Sales?
It will definitely help
It might help
I don't know
It could hurt
It definitely will hurt

Mandatory vaccination? We don't need no stinkin' mandatory vaccination!

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