Dr. Offit responds to CBS piece
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|Tue, 08-05-2008 - 12:50pm|
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Dr. Paul Offit responds
August 4th, 2008, 1:00 am · 25 Comments · posted by sammiller
The subject of a CBS News report that raised questions about his ties to the vaccine industry says he has always disclosed his possible conflicts of interests, to the public and to CBS reporters.
“Did (reporter Sharyl Attkisson) lie about whether or not we provided materials? Of course,” said Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
CBS stood by its piece in an email to me Friday. The story ran July 25 and detailed the financial ties Offit, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the group Every Child By Two have to the vaccine industry. None of the subjects agreed to be interviewed on camera.
Reached at his home Sunday, Offit said he gave CBS the following information, at a CBS producer’s request:
- The sources and amounts of every grant he has received since 1980;
- The details of his relationship, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s relationship, with pharmaceutical company Merck. Offit co-invented a Rotavirus vaccine that is manufactured by Merck. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Offit said, holds the patent.
- The details of every talk he has given for the past three years. CBS asked for the past 28 years, but Offit said he hasn’t saved that information.
The information, he says, is part of the public record. He disclosed his possible conflicts of interest during the five years he spent on the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, he announced them before each of three meetings annually, and he states them in newspaper and journal articles he writes, he said.
So how did the so-called “Quote Machine” Offit — perhaps the most quoted supporter of vaccines for children — end up not even being interviewed for the piece?
He says after he gave CBS the information they asked for, he got a second e-mail.
“The second e-mail was mean spirited and vituperative, over the signature of (reporter) Sharyl Attkisson. She said ‘You’re clearly hiding something and you need to be straightforward, the public has a right to know who its advisers are,’” he said.
Offit ultimately declined to be interviewed on camera for the piece. “It was very clear they were writing a negative story. None of us were going to be on camera for that because their bias was clear. Their bias frankly from the day they started to cover this vaccine-autism controversy has been clear. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would have gone on that program knowing where Sharyl Attkisson’s coming from.”
“Do we ever hide information? Of course not. I have declared my potential conflicts of interest regarding my relationships with Merck on the development of the Rotavirus vaccine ever since I was on the (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) starting in 1998. Every time I’ve written an article, whether it was for the New York Times or the New England Journal of Medicine, I’ve declared that, because I’m not ashamed of it. Quite frankly, I’m proud of it. I’m the co-inventor of a vaccine that’s currently in five developing countries and clearly has already made a difference in this country.
“I don’t expect a ticker-tape parade for it, but I guess I’d like to think I’m above vilification for it.”
He says all the information CBS included about him was provided by him.
“What I learned from all this,” he said, “is a CBS investigation basically includes anything you provide them. I think they bully you into giving as much information as they can, and then they use it against you. I wonder if all of us had given them nothing if they would have had anything at all.”
Asked whether any specific facts in the story were wrong, he said it was primarily the tone he objected to. But he did say that the hospital owns the patent, not him (though he received a share of royalties from it). Also, when Attkisson noted that he had been quoted as saying children could safely take up to 10,000 vaccines at once, “what I actually have said is at least 10,000. It’s probably closer to 100,000.
“I’ve published that in several places, scientific and medical journals. It’s not me who conceived that. You can argue about the caveats … but obviously she just said it to make me sound like a wild-eyed maniac.”
I asked him whether, given how much money he made because of a vaccine, he is the best person to advocate for vaccine. Even if we assume he’s never done anything improper, does he have the credibility to convince the public?
He says yes, because he has the knowledge of how vaccines are tested and created, because he’s been behind the curtain at pharmaceutical companies — things a strictly academic scientist wouldn’t have access to. He admits his vaccine made him wealthy, but he says he spent 25 years trying to develop it because he wanted to save kids.
“You’re asking me the question I spend the most time thinking about: Should I still be doing this? I’m just going to do it until people stop listening. It’s the thing I struggle with the most, and I think it’s unfair.”