Merck & Co. is immediately suspending its lobbying campaign to persuade state legislatures to mandate that adolescent girls get the company's new vaccine against cervical cancer as a requirement for school attendance, the company said late Tuesday.
The drugmaker had been criticized by parents and doctors' groups for quietly funding the campaign via a third party to require 11- and 12-year-old girls get the three-dose vaccine in order to attend school.
Some had objected because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted disease, human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Vaccines mandated for school attendance usually are for diseases easily spread through casual contact.
"Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil," Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told The Associated Press.
"We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts," Haupt said, adding the company will continue providing information about the vaccine if requested by government officials.
Merck launched Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, in June.
Sales totaled $255 million through the end of 2006, according to Merck.
Last month, The Associated Press reported that Merck was channeling money for its state-mandate campaign through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators across the country.
Conservative groups opposed the campaign, saying it would encourage premarital sex, and parents' rights groups said it interfered with their control over their children.