Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: Merck is offering to donate $1 to cancer research for every free "Make the Commitment" bracelet kit ordered from them.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2006]
Origins: In 2006, the pharmaceutical corporation
ORDER A FREE BRACELET KITBy late June 2006 the Make the Connection promotion had been ended "due to an extremely high demand" for bracelets. However, it was started up again as the slightly differently named Make the Commitment promotion in
Show your support and help make the connection between Cervical Cancer and HPV by ordering a FREE make the connection bracelet kit!
With every order of the FREE Make the Connection bracelet kit you will get two kits, so you can invite someone to join you in showing support against cervical cancer.
By ordering a free Make the Connection bracelet kit, you will be helping to advance cervical cancer education and outreach. For every pair of bracelet kits ordered, Merck will donate one dollar to Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, up to $100,000, for cervical cancer awareness and screening programs among medically underserved women.
Kits can also be ordered over the phone 888-4-HPV-CONNECT (888-447-8266).
The stated intent of the bracelet kits is to help promote consumer awareness of the link between cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV), and in order to to encourage the wearing of the "Make the Connection" bracelets, Merck is offering to "advance cervical cancer education and outreach" by donating one dollar to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation "for cervical cancer awareness and screening programs among medically underserved women" for every pair of bracelet kits ordered (with Merck's contribution being capped at $100,000).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 million Americans (both women and men) carry HPV, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin genital contact:
Genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.Merck has more than a philanthropic interest in this issue, as the FDA recently approved their cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, for sale in the U.S. Thus Merck's "Make the Connection" campaign has been characterized by some as a commercial effort to "prime the market" for their new vaccine and help them keep ahead of pharmaceutical rival GlaxoSmithKline, which is hoping to launch its own cervical cancer vaccine in the near future:
Some of these viruses are called "high-risk" types, and may cause abnormal Pap tests. They may also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Others are called "low-risk" types, and they may cause mild Pap test abnormalities or genital warts. Genital warts are single or multiple growths or bumps that appear in the genital area, and sometimes are cauliflower shaped.
Merck — the first to market — must clear several legal and marketing obstacles before the vaccines will be widely available.Some consumer groups have been quite pointed in their criticism of the link between the "Make the Connection" campaign and Merck's commercial interests:
Merck's immediate challenge is persuading federal and state officials to recommend and pay for widespread or mandatory vaccinations, over possible objections of sexual-abstinence and anti-vaccine groups that prefer Pap smears as a proven prevention.
Merck marketers, working already for a year to publicize HPV risks and prime the market, also must take care not to undermine cancer screening and safe-sex campaigns, experts said.
All the while, Merck must watch over its shoulder at GlaxoSmithKline, which hopes to launch Cervarix by late 2007. Its second-to-market strategy is to let Merck pave the regulatory road and then slingshot past Gardasil.
At stake, beyond public health, is billions in revenue for both companies and a potential economic boost for Montgomery County, home to Merck's vaccine division. With roughly 10,000 employees, it already is Pennsylvania's biggest manufacturer of any kind, state officials say.
Merck, struggling since the 2004 recall of its blockbuster pain pill, Vioxx, has staked its turnaround in part on vaccines. They accounted for
Last fall, Merck funded "Make the Connection," run by the industry-backed, nonprofit Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation and celebrity charity Step Up Women's Network. Designed by the public-relations giant Edelman, the campaign features publicity events, a TV public-service announcement and cameos by celebrities such as Maria Shriver and Jessica Alba wearing girls' beaded
Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a consumer group based in Portland, Oregon, that is critical of drug company advertising, said Merck's promotional Web site on the viral connection to cervical cancer is "deceptive and dishonest."Merck itself maintains that their "Make the Connection" campaign is "part of a broad and longstanding Merck public health commitment to encourage education about [cervical cancer]."
"Merck doesn't tell you why the site exists, which is to sell Gardasil," Ruskin said.
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