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Offit's Failure to Disclose Jeopardizes Swine Flu Vaccine Program

Doctor Who Made Millions Off MMR Manufacturer Does Not Tell Public of His
Financial Relationship during NBC Dateline Broadcast http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS106778+08-Sep-2009+PRN20090908

AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As autumn approaches and
millions of Americans consider taking an H1N1 Swine Flu vaccination, the
integrity of all vaccine developers has been called into question by the
financial relationship of a leading vaccine advocate and a pharmaceutical
manufacturer.  Dr. Paul Offit of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP),
who was interviewed for a Dateline NBC television special, failed to tell
millions of viewers that while he was promoting MMR as safe he had also made
tens of millions of dollars from selling another vaccine patent to Merck,
which is the manufacturer of MMR.  According to CHOP documents, Offit's share
of a royalty sale for the Rotateq vaccine to Merck is a minimum of $29 million
and may approach $50 million.

"When Dr. Offit went on Dateline he was probably disinclined to criticize the
MMR vaccine since it is produced by the same pharmaceutical company that made
him a wealthy man," said Jim Moody, attorney for the National Autism
Association (NAA).  "If people are to have confidence in the integrity of the
Swine Flu vaccination program this fall then we need full disclosure of all
financial relationships between proponents and manufacturers on every vaccine
on the market.  Who has an objective opinion about a company that has made
them rich?"

Dateline NBC's broadcast was about the potential link between the MMR vaccine
and the onset of autism.  Offit has stated unequivocally that there is no
connection and that he has no conflict of interest with Merck.  However, he
acknowledged in testimony to Congress in 2000 that "I have been in
collaboration with Merck and Co. on the development of a rotavirus vaccine
since 1992" and that "I am a consultant to Merck."  Although the Rotateq
vaccine that enriched Offit has no relationship to MMR, his close financial
connections to Merck, if disclosed, are likely to affect the public's value of
his opinions on the efficacy of the MMR vaccine.

"It is, at a minimum, disingenuous of Dr. Offit not to tell the public through
the Dateline program what he told Congress in 2000," said Dr. Andrew
Wakefield, Executive Director of Thoughtful House autism treatment center, who
was also featured in the program.  "Even if he is no longer a consultant to
Merck, the fact the company made him wealthy by buying his rotavirus vaccine
is certain to make him warmly view the company and its products, including
MMR.  Let us hope that all such relationships are disclosed prior to any Swine
Flu vaccination program."

Offit has frequently accused Wakefield of being conflicted during his MMR
research, claiming that Wakefield was being paid by a law firm for his
expertise on MMR while also conducting his studies.  Although physicians are
frequently paid for their medical expertise in legal cases, Wakefield fully
disclosed his relationship with the litigators in various UK media stories and
publicly reported documents.  Offit, however, has continued to back MMR as
completely safe while failing to inform the public that the MMR manufacturer
Merck has made him so wealthy he said "it was just like winning the lottery."
As a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, Offit also
voted to include the rotavirus vaccine in the Vaccines for Children program,
which ultimately made his Rotateq product worth hundreds of millions of
dollars to Merck. 

"Offit has zero credibility in matters of vaccine safety," said Wendy
Fournier, President of the NAA. "Not only does he advance the absurd
suggestion that children could safety get 100,000 vaccines at a time, he
opposes any studies of the comparative health of unvaccinated children that
could shed light on the extent and nature of vaccine-caused injuries, leading
to their prevention.  

Beyond Offit's financial conflicts, autism advocates are also dismayed about
the physician's credibility on speaking about autism in general, as he does
not treat patients with autism.  "It's a mystery how such an inexperienced and
financially conflicted man has become the go-to guy for information on
autism," commented Ms. Fournier.  "Here's a man with no real knowledge about
autism that again and again appears in media coverage.  Not only is he
completely unqualified to address autism from a medical standpoint, his
financial conflicts of interest disqualify him as a credible source for
vaccine safety commentary as well."

        Wendy Fournier, NAA (Portsmouth, RI) 401.835.5828
        Jim Moody, NAA (Washington, DC) 202.246.6639