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.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/25/cbsnews_investigates/main4296175.shtml

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.

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    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.