(16.5 minutes long)
Merck is one of the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world and rakes in about forty billion dollars per year. In 1999, it put Vioxx on the market to treat arthritis. Before it was even released, Merck scientists became concerned about the risk of cardiovascular events from the drug. In response to those concerns, Merck decided to do no studies of that risk.
In 2004, Merck had to withdraw Vioxx after a clinical trial did show increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The Lancet medical journal estimated conservatively that thirty-eight thousand people died from the drug. Other estimates go as high as sixty thousand deaths. In 2007, Merck paid nearly five billion dollars to settle twenty-seven thousand lawsuits. Vioxx brought in two and a half billion dollars per year while it was on the market.
This is probably one of the most expensive disasters in pharmaceutical history, but not the only one. We get a few peaks at the mentality lurking inside this mess from CBS News at the time of the Vioxx scandal. The headline read, “Merck created hit list to ’destroy,’ ’neutralize’ or ’discredit’ dissenting doctors.” Merck emails also came to light saying things like, “we need to seek them out and destroy them where they live.” In 2011, the company pleaded guilty to a criminal charge over marketing and sales of Vioxx and paid nine hundred and fifty million dollars. This was only the latest in a series of fraud cases against not just Merck but a number of other pharmaceutical companies, but no individual went to jail or was held liable. It was just the cost of doing business.
Does this give us any broader insights? Does this inspire confidence in the safety of vaccines, for example? Merck is the number one producer of vaccines in the U.S. and number two in the world. Merck is currently being sued over a shingles vaccine as well as the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has logged thirty-nine thousand adverse events from the shingles vaccine, including one hundred and forty-two deaths. Because the shingles vaccine is not covered by previous legislation exempting manufacturers from lawsuits over bad vaccines, you can actually sue companies for that one. There are sixty shingles vaccine lawsuits in the works now.
Are vaccines somehow different and safer than Merck’s other drugs? Look at the vaccine package inserts. The hepatitis B vaccine insert says the company has not evaluated it for things like cardiovascular or fertility effects, among others.
How well does the MMR vaccine work? In 2019, there was a mumps outbreak in Indiana. Nearly all patients had been vaccinated. In 2017 in Washington state, there were forty-two mumps cases—all vaccinated twice. In 2016 in Missouri and at Harvard, the story was similar. In 2019, there was even a mumps outbreak on a Navy ship, even though the MMR vaccine is required for all military personnel. It should not be surprising to learn that Merck has been found to have faked the tests for the vaccine’s mumps component.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is going after Merck and Kaiser Permanente in court over Gardasil. He makes the interesting point that if his claims against Merck are wrong, Merck has a slamdunk case of slander against him. Why aren’t they suing him? He knows they don’t dare. Not only is he not wrong, but if Merck sued him, he would immediately file for discovery, forcing Merck to make public a whole lot more information that it doesn’t want us to know.
Merck is not the only drug maker in trouble. GlaxoSmithKline is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. It recently coughed up three billion dollars for a fraud settlement. Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said money is not deterring corporate malfeasance. Maybe somebody actually needs to go to jail.
Merck has a statement on its website saying that its mission is to save and improve lives. I guess that could be true. The company doesn’t say which lives. The lives of stockholders, maybe? The lives of patients or customers, not so much. The thumb is UP for this video.