How Independent Are Vaccine
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
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
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
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
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
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
And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash.
Dr. Offit's share of vaccine profits? Unknown.
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."
Read more about this story at Couric & Co. Blog
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.
For years, members of Congress have been investigating financial ties
between pharmaceutical companies and the government, doctors and researchers,
research hospitals, colleges and universities. Sen. Charles Grassley, who has
most recently been digging into money links between drug companies and the
American Psychiatric Association, puts it this way: “I have come to understand
that money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of nonprofit
organizations that purport to be independent in their viewpoints and actions.”
In a letter to its members, the APA says it supports complete transparency and
plans to provide Grassley with the information he's requested: "a complete
accounting of APA revenues, except from advertising in our journals, from
pharmaceutical companies, starting in 2003." The APA notes: "We are not alone;
recent public focus on relationships between medicine and the pharmaceutical
industry is a challenge for the whole field of medicine."
Indeed, the APA is not alone in being the subject of public focus and scrutiny
for its relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. Tonight, on the
CBS Evening News, we dig into the allegations of financial conflicts of
interest among some widely-quoted "independent" voices in the debates over
vaccine safety. We weren't as lucky as Grassley: The groups we approached
refused to provide us with a full accounting of their financial relationships.
Although two of the groups receive tax benefits for their non-profit status,
they are not required to file such details with the IRS and would not provide
them to us, either.
In the case of a prominent vaccine specialist who is routinely offered up as an
"independent" voice to speak on vaccine safety, he, too, was unwilling to
disclose to us how much remuneration he's received from the vaccine industry.
And the vaccine companies we asked? They said they would not, or could not give
such information as: financial support they give to educational institutions,
physicians and research projects; a list of outside physicians who are on the
payroll as researchers, speakers, advisors or consultants; and an accounting of
funding provided to non-profits, medical organizations and government entities
such as IOM, NIH, CDC and FDA. With all of those refusals, you might be
surprised to find we had enough information to put together a story for
tonight's CBS Evening News. But you might be more surprised at what we
did find. And we'll show you tonight.