Archive for the ‘Sarah Boseley’ tag

Newspapers don't have to do PR for drug companies

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What would you do if you discovered a cancer vaccine which could protect young girls against cervical cancer? You’d probably do everything you could to get as many vaccinated as possible. You might even go as far as trying to convince governments to institute national vaccination programmes.
So far, so laudable. But, like everything in life, it’s a little more complicated than this. For one thing, what if it’s not clear that the vaccine offers 100% protection? Or that it’s not certain how long the vaccine lasts? Indeed, what if there’s a good chance that it will wear off by the time girls (who receive the vaccine between 9-12 years old) reach adulthood? Oh, and if you are successful and the government institutes the programme, it will almost certainly mean it cannot afford to run some of its other State-funded cancer prevention programmes (such as screening).
Still, the vaccine could be worth about £2bn a year in revenue, and if you don’t offer it then your competitor (in the case of Gardasil, GlaxoSmithKline) will. So, you swallow hard and then promote it as much as you can – with the help of obliging doctors and celebrities.
In very broad brush strokes, this descibes the position of Sanofi Pasteur MSD, the company that makes and markets the drug Gardasil in Europe right now. We know this thanks to Sarah Boseley from the Guardian. Boseley is one of the few journalists who investigates (and is given the space to investigate) the ways in which pharmaceutical companies push sales of their products, and why it’s not as simple as ‘life-saving drugs good, stingy governments bad’.
No other newspaper is reporting the vaccine in this way. Since 2005 the Daily Mail has been referring to ‘the wonder drug’ Gardasil. The Telegraph has, in the past, suggested the government has been ‘dragging its feet’ over approval of a national Gardasil vaccination programme. While the Times and the Independent have discussed the question of whether providing young girls with the vaccination encourages under-age sex.
It’s more difficult to report the issue as Boseley has, but it helps represent the complexity of the issue and the self-interest involved. It also shows that newspapers don’t have to be PR agents for the drug companies.

Written by Martin Moore

March 26th, 2007 at 12:57 pm