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Merck, which is running its first television commercials on human papillomavirus (HPV) in half a dozen years, has ignited a fierce debate over whether the pharmaceutical giant is trying to “shame” parents into getting their children vaccinated for the most common sexually transmitted infection.

The ads, which first aired June 28, are running on major network and cable channels, in day time and prime time, including during the Olympics, when a lot of people are watching TV with their familiesThey don’t mention Merck’s Gardasil, the most widely used vaccine for HPV. Instead, they take aim at a tender spot: parents’ worries about doing right by their kids.

One commercial begins with a woman saying, “I have cervical cancer from an infection — human papillomavirus.” Photos of her as a young adult and a preteen flash by. “Who knew HPV could lead to certain cancers?” she continues. “Who knew that there was something that could have helped protect me from HPV when I was 11 or 12, way before I would even be exposed to it?”

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Image: By melvil – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49059329

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