Vaccine Science's Conflicts of Interest

Overtreatment in the medical establishment is a well-known fact. For example, individual doctors have a tendency to overprescribe even sensitive treatments like surgery if they are rewarded for this by the insurance system they work under. That’s exactly why HMOs or "managed care" facilities succeed in containing healthcare costs: they remove the profit motive from the doctor.

Vaccines, like surgery, are a sensitive health practice, so at first it’s a little hard to imagine that anyone would have a motive to exaggerate their benefits and suppress information about their harmful effects. But vaccine manufacturers are private companies and private companies always have a profit motive. Although many companies may take part in activities that benefit the public (and vaccines do certainly have some public benefit), companies also have a clear goal of making money. In large-scale public healthcare, this can also result in overtreatment, such as the overuse of vaccines.

In the year 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform held hearings to examine conflicts of interest in the two official panels that control vaccine policy in the U.S. (there is one panel at the Centers for Disease Control and one at the FDA). Among the committee’s findings were widespread conflicts of interest among panel members in the form of financial ties to pharmaceutical companies who manufacture vaccines that the panels oversee. Following is a summary of the committee findings, assembled by Dr Joseph Mercola.

  • The CDC routinely grants waivers from conflict of interest rules to every member of its advisory committee.

  • CDC advisory committee members who are not allowed to vote on certain recommendations due to financial conflicts of interest are allowed to actively participate in committee deliberations and advocate specific positions.

  • The chairman of the CDC’s advisory committee until recently owned 600 shares of stock in Merck, a pharmaceutical company with an active vaccine division.

  • Members of the CDC’s advisory committee often leave key details out of their financial disclosure statements, and are not required to provide the missing information by CDC ethics officials.

  • Three out of the five FDA advisory committee members who voted to approve the rotavirus vaccine in December 1997 had financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies that were developing different versions of the vaccine. The vaccine was recalled a few years later after numerous public complaints of serious bowel obstruction due to the vaccine.

  • Four out of the eight CDC advisory committee members who voted to approve guidelines for the rotavirus vaccine in June 1998 had similar financial ties.

In addition to conflicts of interest in advisory panels, there are similar concerns about lack of impartiality in vaccine research. Because of the scarcity of public funding for vaccine research, most research is funded by the same companies which make the vaccines—and which are obviously hoping for optimistic results. Recently, two researchers, Professor David Elliman and Dr. Helen Bedford published a study in the Lancet demonstrating the safety of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) combined vaccine. The two came under public criticism when it was soon discovered that they had both received money on a number of occasions from the vaccine manufacturer. Elliman is quoted, "If one were to cut off the money from the pharmaceutical industry we could all go home." (reported in Scotland on Sunday by Camillo Fracassini.) Vaccine critics for their part can cite other studies which have pointed to links between the MMR shot and a variety of other conditions, especially autism and Crohn’s disease of the bowel.

Researchers who persist in probing vaccine safety can see their funding dry up. Dr. John Martin, a pioneer investigator into the transmission of stealth viruses from monkeys to humans, lost his funding when he continued to research the relationship of vaccines to such viral transmission. Other researchers have simply lost their jobs.

Although many vaccine studies are currently performed, most of the studies are designed in a way that will never detect many types of potential damage. In fact, the federal Institute of Medicine’s protocol for verifying causality of vaccine damage consists of comparing health problems of recently vaccinated children to health problems in background control groups of already vaccinated children (not comparisons to unvaccinated subjects). Because the test group and the control group are both vaccinated, such tests will show only immediate effects of the vaccination, and are of course unable to detect any long-term or widespread damage in the vaccinated population, because any such damage would become a "normal" background parameter of the control group. The pharmaceutical companies have followed suit in their "safety studies" of vaccines. Try finding a single manufacturer data sheet for any vaccine that cites a safety study ranging for more than a week or two after vaccination, and a control group of unvaccinated subjects. None do. Most only test for adverse reactions in a period of two or three days after the vaccination. Crazy? You bet it is!

In order to have assurance of better public health, we need better research, research without a profit motive attached. Instead of the typical short-term studies that the manufacturers perform, we need the following:

  • Long term studies of vaccines, using non-vaccinated control groups, assessing the statistical correlation with chronic diseases such as autism, childhood diabetes, Crohn’s disease, attention deficit disorder, and childhood arthritis.
  • Before-and-after studies that test children prior to and after immunization, to better assess the impact on the body.
  • Studies that are conducted by researchers who do not receive monetary support from the companies that produce the vaccines.

One might think such studies would be a no-brainer for our public health officials, but when public interest is pitted against big pharmaceutical dollars, achieving sensible research will take a lot of effort by concerned parents and doctors.

Doug Collins is a co-editor of the Washington Free Press in Seattle.

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