How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-14-2005
How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?
Thu, 07-31-2008 - 2:50pm

How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2008(CBS) For years some parents and scientists have raised concerns about vaccine safety, including a possible link to autism and ADD. Many independent experts have sided with government officials and other scientists who say there's no possible connection. But how "independent" are they? CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson shares here's what she found.

They're some of the most trusted voices in the defense of vaccine safety: the American Academy of Pediatrics, Every Child By Two, and pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit.

But CBS News has found these three have something more in common - strong financial ties to the industry whose products they promote and defend.

The vaccine industry gives millions to the Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes and even helped build their headquarters. The totals are kept secret, but public documents reveal bits and pieces.

# A $342,000 payment from Wyeth, maker of the pneumococcal vaccine - which makes $2 billion a year in sales.

# A $433,000 contribution from Merck, the same year the academy endorsed Merck's HPV vaccine - which made $1.5 billion a year in sales.

# Another top donor: Sanofi Aventis, maker of 17 vaccines and a new five-in-one combo shot just added to the childhood vaccine schedule last month.

Every Child By Two, a group that promotes early immunization for all children, admits the group takes money from the vaccine industry, too - but wouldn't tell us how much.

A spokesman told CBS News: "There are simply no conflicts to be unearthed." But guess who's listed as the group's treasurers? Officials from Wyeth and a paid advisor to big pharmaceutical clients.

Then there's Paul Offit, perhaps the most widely-quoted defender of vaccine safety.

He's gone so far as to say babies can tolerate "10,000 vaccines at once."

This is how Offit described himself in a previous interview: "I'm the chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at Penn's medical school," he said.

Offit was not willing to be interviewed on this subject but like others in this CBS News investigation, he has strong industry ties. In fact, he's a vaccine industry insider.

Offit holds in a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children's Hospital, funded by Merck. He holds the patent on an anti-diarrhea vaccine he developed with Merck, Rotateq, which has prevented thousands of hospitalizations.

And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit's share of vaccine profits? Unknown.

Read more about this story at Couric & Co. Blog (

There's nothing illegal about the financial relationships, but to critics, they pose a serious risk for conflicts of interest. As one member of Congress put it, money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of those who hold themselves out to be "independent."

The American Academy of Pediatrics, Every Child By Two and Dr. Offit would not agree to interviews, but all told us they're up front about the money they receive, and it doesn't sway their opinions.

Today's immunization schedule now calls for kids to get 55 doses of vaccines by age 6.

Ideally, it makes for a healthier society. But critics worry that industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines.



iVillage Member
Registered: 12-27-2005
Thu, 07-31-2008 - 4:02pm

"but all told us they're up front about the money they receive, and it doesn't sway their opinions"



Tracy - wife to Ron since 9/9/03, mom to college sophomore, Jason (18), high school Junior Chase
iVillage Member
Registered: 09-18-2007
Thu, 07-31-2008 - 6:13pm
I really think they need to something about those conflicts of interests if they want to restore some kind of faith in this industry. I have a hard time trusting someone who stands to gain large sums of money from a product or point of view.


DD 02/21/2008
DS 04/09/1995

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-05-2008
Thu, 07-31-2008 - 6:19pm
Sure, you have a hard time trusting people who stand to gain a lot from vaccines. So do I! So do probably most of us on this board. But I'm wondering why it is we still seem to be in the minority. Is it because most people aren't aware?
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2008
Fri, 08-01-2008 - 10:33am

I think on one hand, you have those that believe this is America, we are run via wallstreet, investors, businessmen/women, stocks, bonds, etc... and so what is wrong if people are making money?

On that one hand - I couldn't agree more - it's what we're about. On the other - I'm also not programmed to not be able to look behind the scenes. I think sometimes however


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-05-2008
Fri, 08-01-2008 - 11:11am
I don't doubt that the numbers of non-vaxers are rising. But, I think it's because there are the percentage of coverage levels in order to protect their "herd immunity." That's still a small percentage of room. I think the non-vaxers are threatening that "herd immunity" coverage, thus we'd still be at say 10%. I don't think we're at 40% or anywhere near that. Too many people hear of vaccine dangers and still turn the other way and go forward with their decision to vax. It's easier for them to do that than it would be to a) take responsibility for themselves instead of tossing it to the ped and b) admit to themselves that vaxing they'd previously allowed might have been harmful.
iVillage Member
Registered: 09-18-2007
Fri, 08-01-2008 - 1:49pm

I think people mistakenly feel our society is a socialist one that operates based on the greater good of its citizens. Unfortunately, we are not socialists, we are capitalist. This means capitol rules and decisions are often based on money and not for the greater good of people.

I think this philosophy has gotten worse within our health care system. Often an insurance company makes the final decision on what medical procedures a person needs based on money instead of being made by a doctor based on what the patient needs. Politicians rely on money to get re-elected; therefore, many of their decisions are tainted by lobbyists with deep pockets. I think it is time to change the medical system. I do not feel that this should be a for profit enterprise.

I also think people generally trust their doctors. They do not realize that most doctors do not read up on vaccines, but trust the recommendations of the AAP. And now we get back to the OP and conflicts of interest.

Finally, the media and government bombards us with fear tactics. It works quite well and most of our population buys into it. Besides doing the research yourself is incredibly time consuming and most people have no spare time.


DD 02/21/2008
DS 04/09/1995

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-05-2008
Fri, 08-01-2008 - 2:09pm
I totally agree. Unfortunately, I suffered from this myself until recently - the idea that our government, doctors, etc wanted what was best for the people. I totally believed that. My husband started explaining how money drives everything in a capitalist society soon after we met and sadly this was a foreign concept to me. I was a trusting, naive person I guess but I wanted to believe the best of others.
iVillage Member
Registered: 09-18-2007
Fri, 08-01-2008 - 2:43pm

****I was a trusting, naive person I guess but I wanted to believe the best of others.****

I still suffer from this problem, but like you, my DH is far more cynical, which keeps me in check. I still think at an individual level, most people are good and caring. The danger comes in when you throw piles of money at people and they view us as a lumped group. In a lumped group, we loose our individuality and it is easier to put money first than when you are staring into the face of an individual.

When I was in school, a professor left a lasting impression on me regarding research. He conducted lots of research himself and he was feeling rather disgruntled. He informed me that you should always check the funding source of the research. Companies and entities that fund the research often have an idea on what they want the results to be and the researcher often feels pressured to supply those results so they can continue to be funded. He also told me that it is easy to skew research results.

I never forgot this conversation and since then I have always viewed research with a critical eye. I do not feel like I can actually judge a piece of research unless I am reading the actual research from the journal. I always have too many questions and want to know how they did the research or who funded it before I would ever consider it valid. The funny thing is I was like this long before I started looking into vaccines, so perhaps this background and knowledge has really helped me to "read between the lines."


DD 02/21/2008
DS 04/09/1995

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Sat, 08-02-2008 - 5:30am

Here's an awesome rebuttal to this:

Paul Offit has been much in the news and blogOsphere lately (Say, here , here and here. Dr. Offit is a vaccine researcher and vocal supporter of vaccines. This makes him a target amongst some groups, leading to a recent example of the “investigative reporting” that CBS news’ Sheryl Attkisson brings to the public.

A big question comes up as to Dr. Offit’s conflicts of interest. Ms. Attkisson’s story brings up a few. Let’s take a look. First we have the fact that Dr. Offit holds an endowed chair:

Offit holds in a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children’s Hospital, funded by Merck. He holds the patent on an anti-diarrhea vaccine he developed with Merck, Rotateq, which has prevented thousands of hospitalizations.

OK, simple fact check: the endowed chair is $2M, with $500,000 seed money put in by Children’s Hospital of Philidelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

Not many people have reason to know the details of what an endowed chair is. If I didn’t know better, the above quote makes it sound like the $1.5M from Merck is something akin to a grant, giving Merck some leverage on Dr. Offit. Actually, chair endowments are basically trust funds. In this case, Merck donated $1.5M to CHOP and Penn, who manage the money independent of Merck. These institutions use the proceeds of the endowment to pay for salary and research funds for the chair holder. CHOP and Penn decide who get the chair after Dr. Offit leaves or retires. It is not “His” chair, but the institutions’.

Remember that bit about “research funds”? This is money that allows a the chair holder (Dr. Offit in this case) to do independent research. He doesn’t have to apply for grants, but has a constant supply of money. Merck doesn’t have a say in how he spends those funds.

Isn’t that a good thing? Independent researchers, not beholden to funding agencies?

So, the endowed chair is not a conflict of interest at all.

What other conflict of interest did Ms. Attkisson ���unearth”? Well, she noted in the above quote that Dr. Offit is a co-inventor of a patent on a Rotavirus vaccine. She goes on to state:

And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit’s share of vaccine profits? Unknown.

OK, I am going to be picky on details again. Yep, I make a lot of mistakes too, but I gotta get this one out. Dr. Offit doesn’t “hold” a patent on the vaccine. He is an “inventor”. He “assigned” the rights to:

The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, Philadelphia, PA
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA

I’ll also point out that he is listed as an inventor on about 24 patents worldwide, with about 10 on Rotavirus. Of those, there are multiple US Patents. (I’ll note that Dr. Offit does not list all his patents on his resume.)

I’m sure I’ve made the “holds patent” mistake a lot. I would venture to guess that you might even find the mistake in statements by Dr. Offit. In general, I wouldn’t think “holds patent” is a big deal. He may discuss it as “his” patent because the ideas are “his” and his co-inventors. But, in the financial sense, the patent belongs to the assignee. Initially, this was CHOP and the Wistar Institute. So, why bring it up here? Because, (a) a news reporter should be more accurate and (b) I think the language is important in this specific case.

What Dr. Offit (and his co-inventors) proabably “hold” is an agreement with the assignees (CHOP and the Wistar Institute) for some share of license fees or for bonuses based on the successful licensing of the patent.

That’s how research works. The company or institution takes the risks that a researcher’s work will never pan out. They pay salary, they pay the fees to file patents. Typically, researchers’ shares in license fees are determined before research is completed, often when the researcher is hired.

But, that doesn’t sound as interesting as “He holds a patent licensed for $182 million”, does it?

I’m not going to downplay the likelihood that Dr. Offit made money off of the vaccine patents. I hope he did. But, if he were in it for the money, there were a lot of things he could have done to make more in his career once it became obvious that RotaTeq was likely to succeed. Talking about the lack of science behind the autism/vaccine connection isn’t one of them.

And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? The implication that Dr. Offit is out for the money. People want to make the public think that he speaks out on vaccine safety because he will get more money.

Well, recall that the future royalties on RotaTeq have been sold. What does that tell us about Dr. Offit’s conflicts of interest? It tells us that the financial COI on RotaTeq is basically over!

Consider the world view of those who claim that Dr. Offit speaks out on vaccine safety to line his own pockets. How much money will Dr. Offit make on RotaTeq if he speaks out on autism issues? How much will he make on RotaTeq if he stops speaking out?

They are the same amount.

So, CBS had two potential COI’s on Dr. Offit: the endowed chair and the RotaTeq royalties. Neither of which is an active COI at this time and into the future.

So, what’s missing from the CBS example of “investigative journalism”? How about a discussion of Dr. Offit’s research grants? Where did the money come to support the research into the vaccine? We all know that CBS must have looked into that. Why nothing in the story? Could it be that there is no story there? Uh huh. The National Institutes of Health funded Dr. Offit’s research on rotavirus. Merck took over the development and testing phase of the vaccine in 1991, but the actual creation of the vaccine occurred without industry funding.

So, did Merck do “payback” and fund Dr. Offit’s research since then? (Again, CBS had to have considered that). Not that I can see. No Merck funded projects are listed in his resume with him as principal investigator.

Quite frankly, I am surprised by how few industry funded research projects Dr. Offit has been principal investigator on. Given his expertise, I would have expected much more industry funding. Much more.

That doesn’t make a good story though, does it?

So, how does Dr. Offit act when a COI is in play? Oddly, this discussion recently occurred on this blog.

Dr. Offit was a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1998 to 2003. During this time he had to vote on a competitor’s rotavirus vaccine (RotaShield). (People seem to have a habit of confusing RotaShield with Dr. Offit (and team’s) RotaTeq)

So, when RotaShield, the competitor’s vaccine, came up for vote, what Did Dr. Offit say? He voted to include it in the schedule. It’s hard to spin that as something that would benefit Dr. Offit, as it clearly meant that the marketability of his own vaccine was reduced.

Rotashield was found to potentially cause intussusception. The numbers affected were too small to detect in the trial, so this concern was raised after the vaccine was added to the schedule. the ACIP took a vote on whether to remove RotaShield from the schedule—a move that clearly had potential benefits for Dr. Offit, so he abstained.

I guess that didn’t fit in the CBS story either.

Why are we talking about Dr. Offit again? We can all speculate, but the good folks at the Age of Autism answer the question for us:

Paul Offit is quickly coming under suspicion for his pharma ties and losing his usefulness as a vaccine promoter in the press.
It’s a little hard to pretend that all you do is work at Children’s Hosp. of Philadelphia, when you’ve gotten coverage on CBS and in the
Wall Street Journal because of serious conflicts of interest. Offit’s new book,
“Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure,” is due out this fall but I hardly think anyone will think of him as a credible independent expert.

Anne Dachel
Media editor

Yep, they realize that “Autism’s False Prophets” is soon to hit the shelves of bookstores. I wish I had a copy now, as it must be pretty scary to the Generation Rescue crowd since they are putting on such a big preemptive strike.

I’ve already asked my library to order a copy.

By the way, I love how everyone at Age of Autism is an editor


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2008
Sun, 08-03-2008 - 9:47pm

All I can say to this Judi is that if Paul had nothing to hide he wouldn't avoid interviews with the opps with a one on one.

Those that don't do that have something to hide.