Anti-vaccine propaganda circulated as fact by Reuters
By David N. Brown
Yesterday, Reuters published the following article, attributed to the National Autism Association: “Offit's Failure to Disclose Jeopardizes Swine Flu Vaccine Program.” The following is offered in rebuttal to this article:
“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.”
According to Bench to Bedside January 2007, CHOP policies in effect until late 2006 define the inventors’ share as 10% of gross, which in this case would be $18.2 million. Paul Offit has affirmed that this was the amount of the share. He also reports that the share was split between himself and two other doctors with their names on the same patent, making his income “only” 6 million. Claims that he received a much larger amount originate from Age of Autism, a “fringe” autism/anti-vaccine blog, and specifically a Feb. 2009 post by editors Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmstead. These authors made many incorrect assumptions and statements, such as the claim that the other patent holders were ineligible for shares of the royalties. Multiple questions and corrections have been sent by the present author, but most, including a forwarded statement from Offit, have not been allowed to appear or in any other way responded to on the AoA blog.
"`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.”
This is clearly primarily a point of opinion. On one point of fact, there is a significant error: While Merck does produce MMRII ant the similar ProQuad vaccines, several other manufacturers also make some version of MMR. Litigants claiming an autism-MMR connection have not limited this accusation to Merck in particular.
“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.”
Paul Offit’s past associations with Merck have been disclosed multiple times. Merck’s role in MMR manufacturing is also a matter of public record. There was no compelling need to repeat these facts during a television interview.
“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.”
Offit also accuses Wakefield of fabricating data, a charge widely affirmed by other scientists.
“Wakefield fully disclosed his relationship with the litigators in various UK media stories and publicly reported documents.”
Wakefield’s financial relationship with attorney Richard Barr were not made widely known until reported by Brian Deer in 2004. Wakefield responded with a lawsuit against Deer.
“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.’”
The statement, in the context where it was reported, is not about the amount he received: “To Offit, getting the money felt like “winning the lottery,” because he never expected his research to amount to anything more tangible than journal articles.” (Jason Fagone, “Will This Doctor Hurt Your Baby?”, Philadelphia June 2009.)
"`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.’”
Offit’s “100,000” statement is specifically in response to the generally rejected theory of “vaccine overload”. It means that it would take the biological components of that many vaccines to harm the immune system or the body as a whole. No evidence is offered here or elsewhere that this is in error. Offit has never questioned the need to study the possibility of vaccine injuries. He has affirmed in principle and in specific instances that such studies have shown real and serious problems with vaccines. He has a difference of opinion with proponents of an MMR-autism link on what methods should be used: He maintains that studies using epidemiological methods are sufficient to rule out such a link, while proponents maintain that these methods are unreliable.
“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.”
Offit has received strong support from many autistics and autism advocates, particularly for challenging a subset of the “autism community” that compares autism to gross brain damage, and advocates “curing” autism using questionable and often dangerous or debilitating methods, such as chelation and Lupron. Furthermore, he has accurately reported what is already the strong consensus about the causes (genetic) and appropriate treatment (behavioral therapy and improved acceptance by society) of autism. It is groups like NAA and AoA who fail to represent “autism in general”.