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Measles: two US outbreaks are blamed on low vaccination rates

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l312 (Published 21 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l312

'Pharma-led chorus' dominates the public narrative on vaccination

Meryl Nass says "Ms Tanne seems to be singing with a Pharma-led chorus this week, orchestrated with the WHO, BMJ, NY Times and other media outlets".[1]

Indeed, with yet another opportunistic 'measles' article, the 'Pharma-led chorus' dominates the public narrative on vaccination, and citizens are kept in the dark about the gross conflicts of interest surrounding vaccination policy, and the burgeoning global vaccine product market, tipped to exceed US$77.5 billion by 2024.[2] A major segment of this market, the United States, provides protection from product liability for vaccine manufacturers via its controversial National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which was created in the 1980s. This US protection of vaccine manufacturers from product liability is likely to have had repercussions throughout the world.

Citizens questioning vaccination policy and safety are reflexively labelled 'anti-vaxxers' and stifled and marginalised by the NY Times and other corporate and government media, and accused of being a threat to global health by the WHO.[3] Creeping censorship across the media, including social media forums, is crippling citizens' legitimate discussion of international vaccination policy, this is a crisis in our liberal democracies. Meanwhile, the Vaccine Confidence Project, an organisation described by the NY Times as "a London-based academic endeavour that monitors anti-vaccine websites for rumors and conspiracies and addresses them before the messages go viral" [4], is given free rein to deride citizens' concerns about vaccination, and to promote the broad range of Pharma's vaccine products.

Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is the Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project [5], although this is not acknowledged in the NY Times article cited by Janice Hopkins Tanne.

In September last year, the co-director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, Dr Pauline Paterson, was given a platform on the biased BBC Newsnight program 'Why the anti-vaccination movement is wrong'.

It was not disclosed on the BBC Newsnight program that the vaccine industry provides funding for the Vaccine Confidence Project. Other organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a foremost promoter of vaccine products [6], have also provided funding. Like BBC Newsnight, the NY Times also fails to disclose the conflicts of interest of the Vaccine Confidence Project in its 'anti-vaxxer' article. Similarly, the Nature journal fails to inform readers of Heidi Larson's and the Vaccine Confidence Project's conflicts of interest in her article 'The biggest pandemic risk? Viral misinformation'[7], referred to in the NY Times article.

I complained to the BBC that its editorial policy and standards had been breached in not disclosing conflicts of interest, and that the Vaccine Confidence Project was not clearly transparent about its funding sources on its website. I received a response from Adam Cumiskey, Newsnight's Chief Programme Producer. He did not accept the BBC had breached its policy or standards but acknowledged that, since the Vaccine Confidence Project began, its research team has received funding from a range of organisations including vaccine manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, 3ie, Innovative Medicines Initiative and others.[8] In my view, this conflict of interest information should have been clearly disclosed during the BBC Newsnight program.

Mr Cumiskey advised me: "In the interests of transparency the VCP has told us that it's updating its website to include funding sources". Some amendments have been made to the Vaccine Confidence Project website now, but not nearly enough is known about this industry-funded surveillance organisation, and its influence on international vaccination policy and the media. I suggest citizens who pay for the BBC would be better served by the BBC investigating the Vaccine Confidence Project, rather than providing a non-critical promotional platform for the vaccine industry. Likewise journals such as The BMJ should be providing more critical analysis of industry-influenced vaccination policy to properly inform their primary readership, i.e. doctors and other health professionals.

Pharma is all about pushing products, but we are seeing a very sinister development now, with increasing moves towards government-mandated vaccine products around the world, e.g. in Australia, the United States, Italy and elsewhere. Incredibly, there is little or no critical analysis of these mandatory/coercive medical interventions, and the deleterious impact on the right to 'informed consent' before a medical intervention.

Citizens are not being consulted about the growing number of vaccine products and revaccinations being added to vaccination schedules, leading to what appears to be a gross over-use of vaccine products, along with other over-used medical products such as antibiotics, opioids, anti-depressants and proton pump inhibitors etc. Citizens and their children are being set up to be made compliant without question to the ever-increasing number of lucrative vaccine products and revaccinations coming through the industry pipeline.

As a matter of urgency, there must be an examination of the conflicts of interest of the Vaccine Confidence Project and other groups, committees, boards and organisations influencing international vaccination policy.

This is a major international political and ethical issue. Citizens must have transparency and accountability for vaccination policy.

References:
1. Meryl Nass. Re: Measles: two US outbreaks are blamed on low vaccination rates. Another perspective. BMJ Rapid Response, 22 January 2019: https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l312/rr-0
2. Vaccine market size to reach (US)$77.5 billion by 2024 / CAGR: 10.3%. Grand View Research, March 2018.
3. Vaccine hesitancy - Ten threats to global health in 2019: https://www.who.int/emergencies/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019
4. How to Inoculate Against Anti-Vaxxers. The New York Times, 19 January 2019.
5. As noted on the Vaccine Confidence Project 'About' webpage, listing the Research Team: https://www.vaccineconfidence.org/about/
6. Bill and Melinda Gates pledge $10 billion in Call for Decade of Vaccines. (Undated press release on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website.) Also see news report on Nature: Ten billion dollars pledged for 'decade of vaccines', 29 January 2010: https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100129/full/news.2010.44.html
7. Heidi J. Larson. The biggest pandemic risk? Viral misinformation. Nature. World View. 16 October 2018.
8. Email from Adam Cumiskey, BBC Newsnight to Elizabeth Hart, 17 January 2019.

Competing interests: No competing interests

06 February 2019
Elizabeth M Hart
Independent
Adelaide, Australia