California recently learned that state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, was the Legislature’s top recipient of pharmaceutical industry cash in 2013-14, pulling in $95,000. Pharma companies gave millions to the state’s lawmakers in advance of a controversial bill, authored by Pan, that would deny access to schools for children missing any required vaccinations. (A small percentage of parents obtain a personal belief exemption to some vaccines after conferencing with their doctors.)
Parents in opposition question whether drug companies are doing everything within their power to make these products as safe as possible. The answer is no.
We know that vaccines do cause serious injury in some children. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation program has awarded more than $3.1 billion to 4,121 families since 1988. The federal government receives around 30,000 reports of vaccine injury annually, with approximately 3,900 of them resulting in hospitalization, permanent disability or death.
Proponents of tougher vaccine legislation camouflage the significance of these injuries by translating them into a minuscule percentage of the total population. Thus, they diminish the possibility for reform that might make vaccines safer.
Vaccine-makers are shielded from liability for vaccine injuries, giving them little incentive to improve their safety. The government must reform this. It must cease allowing conflicts of interest to persist among the institutions that create and recommend vaccines, and it must crack down on research practices that skew results toward profits.
Marcia Angell, a former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, writes how legislation passed in 1980 resulted in pharmaceutical companies having greater influence in the design and analysis of clinical trials at universities and small businesses resulting in distorted results.
Indeed, a few years ago, Merck was implicated for withholding clinical research data about the side effects of its pain killer, Vioxx, and paid a settlement of almost $1 billion.
This chicanery may extend to vaccines, too: A federal lawsuit pending against Merck, filed by two of its virologists, claims Merck fabricated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95 percent or higher to maintain its exclusive license from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The conflicts may exist within our most trusted government institutions. In 2009, the inspector general dinged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a “systematic lack of oversight of the ethics program,” stating that CDC had not resolved potential conflicts of interest for 64 percent of its special government employees who serve on health committees, including one recommending vaccines.
CDC said it has since rectified these concerns, yet the BMJ (British Medical Journal) highlighted in May significant conflicts of interest created by the CDC’s acceptance of funds from the nonprofit CDC Foundation, whose funders include pharmaceutical companies like Merck.
Troublingly, a senior CDC epidemiologist, William Thompson, asserted last August that a 2004 article in Pediatrics omitted statistically significant data suggesting that African American boys who received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine before age 3 were at “increased risk for autism.” His revelations are under investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The late Bernadine Healy, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, stated that identifiable subsets of children may be susceptible to vaccine side-effects but the Institute of Medicine wrote that more research on the subject was “counterproductive” because it would call into question vaccination strategies.
Whether you believe in vaccinations wholeheartedly or have never given your child a shot, demand that your legislators address these issues. Scrutinize their campaign contributions, and hold them accountable for protecting the health of all children.