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Enron, WorldCom, most recently Qwest.  Examples of corporate, greed, even criminality.  And the list goes on.

But in the midst of all this, amidst profound evidence that we cannot trust corporations to necessarily "do the right thing",  the vaccine manufacturers, in the guise of the Frist Bill, are lobbying to be further relieved of liability for damage caused by their products.

And unless we, the voting public, get our collective act together, they just may get what they want.  After all, there are now more drug company lobbyists than members of Congress.

Beyond the sheer naiveté in believing that the drug companies have any incentive to make or keep us well, are the particularities of the vaccine case.

Vaccines are given to healthy children in order to prevent disease.  Many of them are mandated for school attendance (although exemptions are available).  We are constantly being told that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks.  Given that vaccines are given to healthy children in order to prevent events of varying likelihood and consequence, it is imperative that such reassurances be true.

The bottom line, the unavoidable truth, however, is that vaccine manufacturers are behind pretty much everything we have been told about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.  As Dr. Samuel Katz (who you will hear more about later), developer of the measles vaccine stated, “Government doesn’t fund clinical studies of vaccines.  Industry does.” 

We are letting the fox guard the henhouse.   

It would be like trusting the propaganda the cigarette companies provide on the safety of cigarettes. 

And it gets worse.  Medical journals are supported by drug company advertising dollars.  Journal writers have ties to the industry.  (The New England Journal of Medicine recently even threw in the proverbial towel.) Vaccine advisory committee members have financial ties to the vaccine manufacturers and routinely waive their conflicts of interest.  University research is often drug company financed.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, which makes recommendations to our pediatricians, is not immune (pun intended). (Letters from 3 vaccine manufacturers to the AAP, discussing the almost $1 million they donated to the AAP during a 5-year period alone, were recently published in Scandals.)  

Dr. Samuel Katz is a case in point.  A prominent vaccine developer, he is also a very visible figure in the vaccine promotion world.  He has served on immunization committees of the CDC, World Health Organization and Institute of Medicine.  He was chosen as the expert on 60 Minutes defending the MMR vaccine, even though he was involved in developing the vaccine.  And he statedin the Congressional Quarterly Researcher,  “I make sure neither I nor any members of my family have financial interest in vaccine companies”.   

Then how does Dr. Katz explain the fact that in the year 2000, the FDA noted, he has "associations with firms that could be affected by the (vaccine) committee discussions”?   

Unfortunately, there are many more like him out there, making recommendations while making money as a result of the recommendations they make. 

The potential for conflict of interest seems to be, not the exception, but the the rule.

And it gets even worse. 

In 1986, after the vaccine manufacturers threatened to pull out of vaccine production due to all the lawsuits against them, guess what happened?  Instead of saying, gee, maybe we should be concerned, Congress passed a law covering the liability of the vaccine manufacturers.  So now we have universally mandated vaccines (and growing numbers of them), no liability for the makers of the vaccines, and the vaccine manufacturers the very suppliers of the information we rely upon to justify vaccine use.  And guess who pays for the liability coverage?  The vaccinated. There is a surcharge on every dose of vaccine, paid by the consumer, which goes into a fund to pay compensation to known victims of vaccination.  So far around $1.2 billion has been paid out.   

In spite of these facts, however, some good has come out of the Compensation Act.  Parents of vaccine injured children used to find it difficult, if not impossible, to get money to care for their children.  Now, more can.  Maureen Forceskie, is one such mom who, thankfully, did. 

In the Compensation Bill that Congress passed, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a.k.a. VAERS, was also created.  All suspected adverse vaccine reactions are required to be reported to VAERS.  From mid 1990 to mid 2000, over 100,000 adverse reactions were reported, many of them serious, many of them deaths.  That’s a lot of adverse reactions.  But it may be only a small fraction of what is actually happening.  As noted in last week's Scandals, in addition to the problems associated with reporting in a passive reporting system in general, in the case of vaccines there seems to be a great deal of actual resistance to doing so.

And now the vaccine manufacturers are asking for more protection.

This act of sheer chutzpah by the drug companies, this bill sponsored by a possibly conflicted Senator Frist, should not be allowed to pass.  There may be more drug company lobbyists than there are members of Congress, but there are clearly more voters than lobbyists.  Our elected representatives care about two things: money and votes, both of which are needed to get elected.  We may not have the money, but we are the voting public.  So let's let them know, in no uncertain terms, how we, the voters, feel about Senate Bill 2053.  (For additional "talking points", click here.)

This bill has been postponed until at least September.  Write your Senators and tell them you oppose it. 

Note: Portions of this have been taken from my February, 2002 speech to the Bartlett Democratic Club.

Sandy Gottstein

Date: 8-2-2002