Ghost in the Machine: How Big Pharma Controls Our Perception of Drug Safety and EffectivenessPrint Friendly or Save as PDF
February 13th, 2018
By Dr. Joseph Mercola
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Drug Safety and Media Shaped by Big Pharma
In this article, we look at the “Ghost in the Machine” – the murderous forces in our health care system that harm patients instead of help them. This article will expose the deceptions that occur in almost all facets of health care today for no reason other than money. It will also expose the identities of the ghost’s “puppet masters” who perpetrate health misinformation and unethical drug marketing for profit, whether it’s Big Pharma or its helpers in academia, government and nongovernment agencies.
It should surprise no one that, in most cases, promotion of dangerous drugs and misleading health information is a direct result of conflicts of interest. For example, with the exception of CBS, every major U.S. media outlet keeps at least one person from the drug industry on its board, which clearly explains the dearth of reporting on Pharma dangers and corruption.1
The drug industry also spends billions a year on TV ads — revenue from just nine prescription drugs was worth $100 million in one year — which also stifles negative news stories about Pharma.2
Even so-called “public” media like PBS and NPR have accepted money from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and UnitedHealthcare.3 Similar conflicts of interest exist at medical journals, universities, medical associations, advocacy groups and government agencies, including those that are supposed to regulate the drug industry. The result is the Ghost in the Machine that we live with today — deceived patients taking expensive, often dangerous drugs and soaring health costs.
Revolving Doors Between Pharma and Government
One of the most damaging conflicts of interest is the revolving door between industry and government. It allows the worst forms of cronyism, quid pro quo arrangements and approval of dangerous drugs. Both Robert Califf, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, and Scott Gottlieb, the current FDA Commissioner, are shining examples of conflicts of interest.
Before his appointment by President Obama in 2015, Califf received money from 23 drug companies including giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering-Plough and GSK, according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute.4 He even praised the involvement of Pharma in government affairs.
Gottlieb was named FDA commissioner this year by President Trump, despite his high-profile work as a Pharma consultant and stock trader. While serving as FDA deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs before becoming commissioner, Gottlieb had to recuse himself from work related to nine drug companies, including Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lilly and Proctor & Gamble, because of his financial links.5,6
Another example of the “revolving door” between government and industry is former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Julie Gerberding, who left the agency in 2009 where she had overseen vaccine decisions to head Merck’s vaccines division.7,8 In 2015, she sold 38,368 shares of her Merck stock valued at $2 million.9,10 Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also used the revolving door, leaving government for industry in 2015.11
And who can forget former Texas governor Rick Perry, who mandated that all girls in Texas be vaccinated with Gardasil, an HPV vaccine made by Merck, after his former chief of staff became a Merck lobbyist?12 Stipends from industry to government also skew drug messages. Gilead Sciences, an aggressive marketer of hepatitis C drugs, likely earned the right to add the CDC’s name to its ads because of its gifts to the CDC Foundation.13
Pharma/Academia Partnerships Are Lucrative Thanks to Taxpayers
Academia was once a source of unbiased drug and health information, untainted by Big Pharma and Big Pharma’s money. Not anymore. Universities now have a “renewed interest in partnering with pharmaceutical companies and are investing resources to ensure successful collaborations,” writes Pharma Voice.14 This is how Dr. Terrence Norchi, president and CEO of Arch Therapeutics, explains the profitable new partnerships.15
“For the past 15 years, the pipelines of the big [drug] companies have been drying up … At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on academic institutions in this country and abroad. To survive, many universities will have to find creative ways to make themselves more relevant. There are opportunities to mutually solve these challenges between academia and industry.”
Such Pharma/academia partnerships date back to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allowed universities to “patent discoveries that stem from government-funded research and then license them exclusively to companies in return for royalties,” wrote Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and Harvard lecturer, in the Boston Review.16,17
Similar laws also allow industry to co-opt and profit from NIH-funded research, which is also taxpayer supported, says Angell. Before the Bayh-Dole Act, government-funded discoveries were in the public domain — as they should be. Between 2000 and 2011 more than half of all new drugs approved in the United States were developed by collaborations with other entities such as universities.18
Increasingly, academia does not even attempt to hide its dual allegiances. Susan Desmond-Hellmann was invited to apply to be Chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), which includes a medical school, while serving as president of product development at Genentech.19 She remained at UCSF until 2014 after which she joined the Gates Foundation, which has its own serious conflicts of interest that you will read about in the Ghost in the Machine series.
Drug Trials Now Riddled With Conflicts of Interest
The faster Pharma can get a drug to market, the more money it makes — even if safety problems emerge later. Legal settlements from injury suits are simply built into the cost of the product launch and marketing. Gag orders with injured parties keep the dangerous side effects from reaching the public and dampening sales.
There are many examples of drugs rushed to market before they were proven safe, such as the painkiller Vioxx
, estimated to have killed over 60,000 people, and the new, expensive hepatitis C drugs that were marketed before their ability to reactivate pre-existing hepatitis B was known.20,21
One way in which dangerous drugs are now rushed to market is the fast work of contract research organizations (CROs) to which Pharma increasingly outsources drug trials. CROs conduct drug trial design, recruitment, enrollment and consent of subjects, as well as preparation of the final drug submission package to the FDA in turnkey operations. If and when the new drug is approved, they will also take care of marketing and branding.
Another compromise in drug safety comes from the changing face of institutional review boards (IRBs), groups of medical professionals, laypeople and ethicists who monitor human safety during drug trials. Once linked to academic settings or hospital, IRBs have become for-profit ventures paid by the companies who do the research. When the financial livelihoods of members of IRBs depend on the company that hires them, that is a huge conflict of interest.
One example of the changing face of IRBs was revealed in a sting operation devised by Congress and the General Accountability Office. When they asked a Colorado review board to oversee a study of Adhesiabloc, a product designed to reduce scar tissue after surgery, it agreed to the work though neither the drug, developer nor lead researcher even existed.22
How can human subjects be protected in such eagerness to acquire new work? To cut costs, Pharma also increasingly runs trials in poor countries where informed consent is not easily explained and subjects sometimes think they are receiving real medical care.23
Conflicts of Interest Abound in Research
In the Ghost in the Machine series, we will review conflicts of interest in publishing that skews the perception of a drug’s safety in the public’s eyes as well as among medical professionals. Research and scientific papers boosting the benefits of new drugs and downplaying their risks often appears in medical journals, ghostwritten by the drug industry with a medical professional’s name attached for credibility.24
For example, the popularity of the withdrawn Vioxx, the birth defect-linked Paxil, Neurontin, and the cancer and heart disease-linked hormone replacement therapy drugs all stemmed from papers ghostwritten by industry. In 2016, the National Press Club in Washington held a half-day conference for reporters, scientists and business executives to discuss how well the news covered science called “Lost in Translation: Is Science Explained Fairly in the Media?”
But it was clear that the conference was biased as it grew from a partnership between Scientific American magazine, Johnson & Johnson and GMO Answers, a group funded by members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto.25 The event represented a popular new trend, wrote Paul Raeburn:26
“The conference was an example of what is now a widespread and growing practice in the publishing industry: the use of ‘branded partnerships’ to extended publishers’ reach and boost their income. While these arrangements might generate revenue, they also raise important questions about journalistic credibility.
After all, how can news outlets like Scientific American, a respected — even revered — source of science news, maintain the appearance of impartiality while accepting checks from companies they cover? And should respected journalists lend their names and reputations to such conferences by participating on the panels?”
Examples of branded and ghostwritten content invading publishing are not hard to find. Recently, ProPublica and Consumer Reports reported that hepatitis C drugmaker AbbVie funded a special issue of the American Journal of Managed Care on hepatitis C research, using a Stanford professor as guest editor-in-chief.27
Even books are funded by Pharma. A 1999 textbook written to help primary care doctors diagnose psychiatric conditions was funded entirely by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes pills for psychiatric conditions. Its authors were two prominent psychiatrists, one of whom was on GSK’s speaker’s bureau; the other was investigated by Congress for undeclared GSK income.28
Nonprofit Organizations Push the Pharma Agenda
Recently I wrote that philanthropist Bill Gates
was leading the pack as one of the most destructive “do-gooders” on the planet, and that his views on addressing poverty and disease in poor countries were shortsighted and misinformed. Why? Because the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF) is one of the world’s foremost promoters of mass-vaccination efforts, which are a major part of the Pharma agenda.
Two of the B&MGF’s research heads were hired right out of Pharma — one from GlaxoSmithKline, with whom the B&MGF had a long-standing collaboration, and the other from Novartis.29
In 2002, B&MGF began buying billions in drug stocks and subsequently added huge amounts of Monsanto stock as well. Not surprisingly, the foundation is also a leading international promoter of GMO crops
“The Bill & Melinda Gates ‘Foundation’ is essentially a huge tax-avoidance scheme for enormously-wealthy capitalists who have made billions from exploiting the world’s people,” writes Ruben Rosenberg Colorni. “The foundation invests, tax free, money from Gates and the ‘donations’ from others, in the very companies in which Gates owns millions in stocks, thus guaranteeing returns through both sales as well as intellectual-property rights.”
In a 2011 Forbes interview, Bill Gates admitted the new profitability of vaccines. “Ten or 15 years ago, nobody in the drug business would have held up vaccines as profit centers,” he said, conceding that “vaccines are so tough, particularly because of liability issues.” But now, “people are making money in the vaccine business,” he noted. His statements characterize the Ghost in the Machine well.
There Is a Final Irony to the Ghost in the Machine
While mainstream medicine, which is dominated and influenced by Pharma, assails natural, nonprescription treatments that are less expensive and usually safer as worthless and untrustworthy, many Pharma companies are trying to enter the vitamin and supplement industry themselves. It is easy to see why. Supplements
and natural products often treat or prevent the conditions on which Pharma makes most of its money.
They are used by the most desirable customers to Pharma — patients who say they have “excellent” or “very good” health and have high discretionary income.30
Such patients often prefer natural treatments like probiotic-rich fermented food
instead of Pharma’s dangerous proton pump inhibitors. They are not deceived by the Ghost in the Machine.
Part 2: Success Breeds Greed, Which Gets in the Way of Ethics, Common Sense and Caution
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising, which began in 1997, has done a lot more than make Pharma arguably the most profitable industry in the world and a Wall Street success story. It has greatly increased the number of prescription drugs that Americans take. In 1992, five years before DTC advertising
began, Americans took an average of seven prescription drugs a year. A mere 15 years later that number had nearly doubled to 12 per year.31,32
To sell drugs, aggressive drug advertising whips up fears over rare diseases like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (introduced at the 2017 Super Bowl) and make a disease out of common, nearly universal conditions to frighten and motivate people into taking prescription drugs.
Another DTC advertising tactic is convincing people to take drugs simply because they might be “at risk” of a condition. Sadly, drug advertising is not the only way Pharma gets dangerous drugs into the nation’s medicine chests. Thanks to outrageous conflicts of interest at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — the new FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, is a drug company consultant — drugs that would once have not been approved fly through their approvals.
DTC Advertising Does More Harm Than Good
Pharma-funded “patient groups” also create a false sense of demand for an expensive drug. And, last year, the FDA began clearing the way for Pharma “off-label” speech, once illegal.33 Now marketers and drug reps can claim benefits to their drugs not backed by the FDA, raising the question of “why have an FDA?”
Aggressive drug ads
telling people to get medication from their doctors are especially unethical in the middle of an opioid epidemic
and war on drugs. Moreover, the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016, allocates $1 million to “opioid addiction
” treatment drugs to address the opioid crisis Big Pharma created, allowing the industry to profit twice.34
Pharma’s marketing of dangerous drugs, often which is often completely unnecessary, does not just harm overmedicated people. Poor people who legitimately need medical care and medication are also neglected because no profits can be made from them.
DTC Advertising Creates Patients
As previously noted, DTC advertising has greatly increased the number of prescription drugs taken in the U.S. A decade and a half after DTC began, the use of prescription medication went up 71 percent, adding $180 billion to U.S. medical spending.35
By 2014, 70 percent of adults and 25 percent of children in the U.S. were on at least one prescription drug.36 Today, 20 percent of Americans are on five or more prescription drugs.37 DTC drug advertising “is now the most prominent type of health communication that the public encounters,” reported Pharmacy and Therapeutics, adding:38
“The average American television viewer watches as many as nine drug ads a day, totaling 16 hours per year, which far exceeds the amount of time the average individual spends with a primary care physician.”
Pharma is legally required to include risk information about drugs in its ads, but the info seldom scares patients away. Everything from actors who use an appealing voice tone, to beautiful images and music choices is designed to make you tune out the risks.
DTC Ads Are Highly Effective
DTC ads are so effective, the average number of prescriptions for advertised drugs is nine times greater than prescriptions for non-DTC advertised products.39
DTC ads have put tremendous pressure on doctors who are aware that denying a prescription request can decrease patient satisfaction and cause patients to switch doctors. “Refusal skills” have even been taught to doctors, says an article at the Center for Health Journalism:40
“Writing a prescription may seem quicker but ‘explaining to a patient why a highly-advertised drug might not be appropriate only takes three minutes,’ said [Dr.] Richard Pinckney, professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine where such a program existed.
‘The insurance savings could pay for programs like these,’ he said. The Vermont project included ‘secret shoppers’ who asked doctors for an expensive brand name drug they had seen on TV after the refusal training.
‘Doctors have a hard time saying no if a drug is effective, even if it is expensive,’ said [Dr.] Audiey Kao, vice president of ethics at the American Medical Association at a 2010 conference. Doctors are ‘nervous’ that rebuffed patients will go elsewhere, agreed Dr. Pinckney.”
Highlighting Symptoms Sells Pills
Once upon a time, a medical professional sought to reassure patients and tell them they were not sick. Who remembers, “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning?” Today, thanks to DTC advertising, patients receive the exact opposite message: You probably are sick and should see your doctor.
Normal conditions like sad moods or indigestion are now said to signify potentially serious conditions, and when someone has no symptoms at all they could still be “at risk” of silent killer diseases, say DTC ads. Some DTC ads even tell you what to tell your doctor when you visit him or her and provide coupons to provide a discount for the drug being promoted.
This type of advertising is called “disease awareness” and Pharma says it is “educational” since it acquaints people with conditions and symptoms they may not know about. The truth is it increases hypochondria, self-diagnosis and the pool of patients who might use a new, advertised drug.
Sometimes disease awareness ads are “unbranded,” meaning they do not even mention the drug they are selling. This leads people to believe they are hearing public service messages from a government agency instead of calculated Pharma messages to make people think they are sick.
One example of a disease “grown” by DTC advertising is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you have heartburn
, acid reflux, GERD, peptic ulcer disease or any acid-related condition, chances are you’ve been offered a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like the best-selling Prilosec.
Contrary to Pharma marketing, PPIs actually cause the very symptoms they’re intended to prevent by creating “rebound acid hypersecretion” when you stop taking them; built-up acid can be unleashed with a vengeance. In one study, more than 40 percent of healthy volunteers experienced heartburn, acid regurgitation and dyspepsia (pain and fullness in your abdomen) in the weeks after stopping PPIs; these were symptoms they did not have before.
Other Diseases Grown by DTC Advertising
One of the clearest examples of how DTC advertising “grows” the amount of people identifying with a condition has been the statin drug
class, prescribed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Until it went off patent, Pfizer’s Lipitor was the best-selling drug in the world.41 The popularity of statins reflects Americans’ and medical practitioners’ impulse to treat a condition quickly with a pill rather than more slowly but more effectively with lifestyle changes. Needless to say, Pharma makes no money on better lifestyle choices. Here is how AlterNet described the success of statins.42
“Patients loved statins because they could ignore diet and exercise advice and still, apparently, reduce heart attack risks; their body would ‘forgive’ the bacon cheeseburger. But not all medical voices agreed. Some wondered why the nation spent approximately $20 billion a year on cholesterol-lowering drugs instead of effective, less dangerous and less expensive lifestyle and diet changes.”
Another example of an overexposed condition is erectile dysfunction
(ED). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 12 percent of men younger than 60 and 30 percent older than 70 suffer from ED. However, the market for the top three ED drugs is over $1 billion annually and expected to reach $3.2 billion by 2022. This means many men are treating a condition that may be well within the range of normal.
The same overdiagnosis and overtreatment can be seen with low testosterone or “low T.” Rather than making diet and exercise changes, men are erroneously told they need to treat their testosterone decline
Pills for Rare Diseases Are Pharma’s Biggest Profit Center
If you have noticed aggressive DTC advertising for drugs that treat rare diseases, you are right. Approximately 1.2 percent of Americans (3.2 million) have schizophrenia, yet drugs that treat the condition have been among Pharma’s bestsellers.43 Specialized, highly expensive drugs that treat rare mental disorders, cancers, autoimmune diseases and other specialized ailments “have been growing in leaps and bounds in recent years,” says the financial site Motley Fool:44
“[That] means that volume may not necessarily be driving sales of these therapies higher so much as price hikes. A good example would be Amgen’s … anti-inflammatory drug Enbrel, which grew revenue by 14 [percent] in 2016, but actually had units sold of the drug fall by 6 [percent] year-over-year. This means price increases drove its 14 [percent] total growth.”
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which also afflicts a small number of people, is very aggressively advertised because of the high price tags of the drugs that treat it. As I have often warned, rheumatoid arthritis
drugs are among the most dangerous drugs available. Humira, Remicade and similar drugs double your chances of getting a serious infection and triple your risk of some cancers. They also fail miserably in not addressing the underlying foundational reasons why the condition began in the first place.
The drugs are linked to lymphoma, tuberculosis, pneumonia and skin, gastrointestinal, breast and lung tumors. Older patients who take the drug for long periods are at highest risk.
These dangerous drugs are almost always unnecessary for most people taking them. It has been my experience that virtually all rheumatologists are clueless about the root cause of the disease they are treating. Because they don’t have a clue about the cause, they have to rely on toxic concoctions that can devastate your health.
Over the past 16 years, however, I’ve treated more than 3,000 patients safely by using my extensive RA protocol, which does address the underlying conditions, as does my new book “Fat for Fuel
,” which helps you optimize your mitochondrial function.
Greed Sends Health Care Costs Soaring
In the past few years, the public, health care professionals and Congress itself have been appalled at Pharma’s profiteering. Many remember how Martin Shkreli, former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO, raised the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim, crucial for AIDS patients, from $13.50 a tablet to $750 per tablet, and the similar EpiPen price hikes.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. hiked the price of a once-daily form of Wellbutrin, a 30-year-old antidepressant, to $1,400 a month despite the existence of a $30 generic, and refused to lower prices on the millions hospitals pay for its life-saving heart medicines.45
The ruse of patient assistance for expensive drugs is just that: a ruse. Pharma, trying to look like it has a heart, simply shifts the high cost to privately insured patients and still gets its high prices. Taxpayers also pay. A Senate committee found that the hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni cost taxpayers $5 billion in 2014. Of course, there are cheaper drugs, but they are not the ones promoted, reported Pharmacy and Therapeutics:46
“Another common complaint is that manufacturers often use DTCPA [direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising] to promote expensive ‘me-too’ or ‘copycat’ drugs that might not offer any significant benefits over older and cheaper medications.
For example, two heavily promoted diabetes treatments, rosiglitazone (Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline) and pioglitazone (Actos, Takeda), were found to be no more effective — or safe — than older drugs, even though they were much more expensive.
In another study, older drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia were found to be equally effective and to cost as much as $600 per month less than olanzapine (Zyprexa, Eli Lilly), quetiapine (Seroquel, AstraZeneca), or risperidone (Risperdal, Janssen).”
Other Ways Pharma Ensures Its High Prices
As mentioned, outrageous conflicts of interest at the FDA allow drugs that once might not have been approved to fly through their approvals and onto Wall Street.47
It is no surprise, then, when rushed-to-market drugs are withdrawn, since an insufficient amount of time was allotted for safety problems to emerge. Patient front groups — a typical “astroturf” strategy, since they are not really grassroots — keep drug prices high. According to AlterNet:48
“More than 80 percent of patient groups are Pharma-funded … including the National Hemophilia Foundation, the American Diabetes Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation.
But the most insidious are the mental health front groups like the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) and Mental Health America. Not only do psychiatric drugs represent four-digit outlays per month per patient, and sometimes much more, patients are kept on them for decades or for life, with few medical attempts to determine if patients still need them or ever needed them.
Side effects of the drug cocktails are viewed, thanks to Pharma spin, as confirmation of the ‘mental illness,’ not the side effects they almost always are. The use of such drugs in the elderly, despite their links to death in those with dementia, has become epidemic and is an underreported cause of falls.”
To defend its high prices, Pharma has also rolled out PR campaigns targeting lawmakers who want to stop the profiteering. They are designed to show the “value” that drugs that cost five and six figures represent. The prices are always presented as fixed and non-negotiable, but the Senate Finance Committee said last year they do not reflect research and development but are simply an opportunistic and arbitrary “revenue” push.49
The message of the campaigns, showing patients whose lives were saved or lengthened by expensive Pharma medicines, is that questioning Pharma’s outrageous drug prices means you’re heartless and don’t care about these patients’ lives. Even as Pharma companies seek to incorporate overseas to duck U.S. taxes, and manufacture almost all their drugs overseas, these campaigns also claim its high-priced medicines help the U.S. economy by creating jobs, like for “sheet metal workers.”50
Part 3: Pride and the Politics of Vaccines
There needs to be an open, rational discussion about vaccination, infectious diseases and health. After all, don’t all of us want our children to be healthy and safe from unnecessary harm?
If we want to protect the health of all children, we cannot continue to ignore the signs that public health policies making mandatory use of multiple vaccines in early childhood as our nation’s No. 1 disease prevention strategy have gotten to the point where we have no idea how children’s lives are being sacrificed in the name of “the greater good.”
From my point of view, there can be little doubt that we need to review the safety and effectiveness of the current vaccination program in the U.S., and that this review needs to include methodologically sound investigative studies that are not compromised by conflicts of interest within industry and government. If we don’t do that now, we may not be able to stop further damage to the health of future generations.
Vaccine History is Shameful
Many are aware of the unethical and manipulative marketing of today’s vaccines. But the roots of the greed-based marketing — battling over markets, patents, intellectual property, profits, “turf” and prestige — could be seen 20 years ago with the Children’s Vaccine Initiative (CVI).51
The CVI was founded in 1990 after the World Children’s Summit in New York City by the Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) with an overarching goal of vaccinating all the children in the world with vaccines endorsed by the WHO and governments.52
Reportedly, CVI has been marked by a rivalry for leadership between the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the U.S. The CVI was created as a means for UNICEF to fund research and development of vaccines for distribution globally without directly giving money to WHO.
There were difficulties inherent in coordinating the efforts of different governments and public-private partnerships. Also, there were questions about vaccine production itself, such as would the ability of drug companies and governments to quickly produce large quantities of vaccines end up compromising the quality of vaccines?
According to the book, “The Politics of International Health: The Children’s Vaccine Initiative and the Struggle to Develop Vaccines for the Third World,” the U.S. Department of Defense was a cooperative partner with CVI:53 “The Army, unlike the public sector generally, worked closely with private pharmaceutical companies to make sure that the vaccines it needs were actually produced. It could not afford to leave decisions to the marketplace.”
Overseas Vaccine Disasters
Increasingly, Big Pharma produces, tests and sells its vaccines in poorer, undeveloped countries — sometimes with disastrous results. This is what happened with Gardasil
, a Merck vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked to venereal warts and cervical cancer. As reported by Counterpunch:54
“Merck attempted to cast the vaccine as lifesaving — even in poor countries with much more pressing disease risks — but Pap smear tests are equally effective in preventing [through detection] cervical cancer and cost much less. Nor are the vaccines clearly safe. [In 2015], judges in India’s Supreme Court demanded answers after children died during a trial of Gardasil and Cervarix, GlaxoSmithKline’s counterpart vaccine.” 55
Young tribal girls as young as 9 were given Gardasil and Cervarix HPV vaccines
with no informed consent or even awareness that they were participating in an experimental vaccine trial. The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.56
The pharmaceutical industry likes overseas clinical trials because regulations are less strict and sometimes nonexistent, and product liability lawsuits involving personal injury are unlikely. In fact, trial participants often welcome the test drugs thinking they are being given important or needed medical care.
Clinical trial participants in foreign countries, especially those who live in poverty with little education or access to medical care, are also “drug-naïve” — they have not used the antibiotics, statins
, psychiatric and GERD medications
so common in industrialized countries.57
Clinical trials require that participants have a “washout” period to ensure any drug residues in their bodies do not confound the trial results, and subjects in poor countries have no drugs to “wash out.”
Many medical ethicists also question whether trials of pharmaceutical products should be conducted on people who don’t need them or won’t receive them after the trial. If the drug (or vaccine) will not be available free or for a reasonable cost for a significant time afterward, the trial itself is unethical in that it is “exporting the risk of research to those who will, in the end, not be able to afford the resulting medical products,”58 say ethicists.
And informed consent? Some ethicists have argued that videotapes of informed consent statements by trial participants would protect them much better than the current written consent forms being used because of language barriers and the fact that some trial participants in impoverished countries cannot read.
Big Pharma Conflicts of Interest Abound
Mainstream media are financially linked to Big Pharma through drug ads (estimated to account for as much as 72 percent of commercials)59 and through allowing drug company representatives to serve as board members. Here is how Organic Consumers Association (OCA) describes the conflicts:60
“There are brazen and unhidden conflicts of interest between mainstream media and vaccine makers which color reporting and discourage safety questions.
‘According to a 2009 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, with the exception of CBS, every major media outlet in the United States shares at least one board member with at least one drug company,’ reports Mike Papantonio, of the ‘America’s Lawyer’ TV show. ‘These board members wake up, they go to a meeting at Merck or Pfizer, and then they have their driver take them over to a meeting at a TV station,’ says Papantonio.”
The government is also in the vaccine “biz.” Vaccine safety activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reported that the CDC owns more than 20 different vaccine patents
and sells $4.1 billion in vaccines each year, noting that those patents create a significant undisclosed conflict of interest when it comes to the agency’s involvement in vaccine safety. It is a case of the fox guarding the henhouse.
The New York Times reported that most experts who served on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panels to evaluate flu and cervical cancer vaccines had potential conflicts that were never resolved.61 The vaccine industry also “gives millions to the Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes and even helped build their headquarters,” according to a CBS investigative report.62
Unscientific ‘Conclusions’ Reached by News Outlets
Almost all news sites parrot the Big Vax party line in shocking abdication of journalistic ethics. For example, no news outlet would declare “all drugs safe” because they clearly are not, yet they obligingly declare “all vaccines safe,” which insults the public’s intelligence. In addition to published reports of vaccine injuries,63
there are many reports of vaccines recalled
for safety issues.
No, all vaccines are not “safe” and every pharmaceutical product carries a risk of injury or death that can be greater for some people than others.
Imagine a news outlet blaming motor vehicle accidents in which the motorist fell asleep and harmed others on the motorist’s refusal to take stimulants for sleepiness. As outrageous as that would be, headlines from respected news sites do exactly that when they blame disease outbreaks on “anti-vaxxers.”
As scientists and reporters with integrity know, causation can almost never be claimed; the preferred terms are “linked, “associated” and “correlated.” “Anti-vaccine activists spark a state’s worst measles outbreak in decades,” trumpeted The Washington Post in May.64“Anti-vaxxers brought their war to Minnesota — then came measles,” screamed Wired.65
“Attempts by anti-vaccine activists to influence the Somali parents of Minnesota have ended with a measles outbreak that has made dozens of kids sick,” declared The Daily Beast.66 “Anti-vaccine groups blamed in Minnesota measles outbreak,” charged CNN.67 Conveniently ignored is the fact that the CDC maintains a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) that in February revealed 416 deaths from measles vaccines MEA, MER, MM, MMR or MMRV.68