The public trusts that government advisory boards for public health policy are acting in the public interest. In order to make decisions that protect the public interest in these policies – health – it is necessary for policy-decision makers to base decisions on objective or non-biased science.
Government policy is also required to be transparent and accountable. This means that conflicts of interest on government advisory boards need to be declared and publicised to the community.
However, lobby groups are framing this issue to suggest that people who discuss conflicts of interest or question the use of so many vaccines are ‘conspiracy theorists’. This is ignoring the possible influence conflicts of interest have on policy development.
In Australia conflicts of interest on government vaccine advisory boards were not publicised to the community until February 2015 – just after Terry Nolan retired as chairman of the ATAGI vaccine advisory group and deputy-chair of the NHMRC.
Australian Government Advisory Boards for Immunisation Policy
Australia’s vaccination policies are recommended to our Minister for Health by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). This group is also responsible for providing advice about research funding to research organisations and recommending the areas where additional research is needed.
In Australia, the chairman of the ATAGI committee, Professor Terry Nolan, was also the deputy chairman of the research committee for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from 2005 – 2015. This is the body responsible for recommending the areas for research funding.
Here are the declared Conflicts of Interest of the ATAGI Chairman, Professor Terry Nolan, the co-director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), Professor Robert Booy, the WA Department of Health, Associate Professor Peter Richmond, Chairman of the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG), Dr. Alan Hampson, and Member of the ISG, Anne Kelso.
It is possible that many other COI exist in these boards that have not been made transparent to the public.
ATAGI Chairman Terry Nolan was the principle researcher on the pediatric swine flu trials for CSL’s Fluvax vaccine in 2009 – before the vacccine was marketed in the community – and this vaccine was withdrawn from the market in 2010 after many children had serious adverse events to this vaccine.
Associate Professor Peter Richmond was also involved in the Fluvax vaccine clinical trials in western Australian children in 2008-2010. Both Professor Nolan and Richmond were on the ATAGI advisory boards that recommended the government implement the Fluvax vaccine into the national childhood vaccination program in 2009-2010.
And they were both on the team that investigated the 1000’s of severe adverse events to the Fluvax vaccine that occurred in children in 2010 and resulted in the vaccine being removed from the market.
Policy decisions should be made on non-biased information yet the representatives on the US and Australian vaccine advisory boards have many financial conflicts of interest (COI) with industry. These conflicts have the potential to bias their decisions. Many drugs and vaccines are licensed in the USA by the US Food and Drug Administrator (FDA) and then automatically approved for other countries without further clinical trials.
A prominent US public health official who is often presented in the media and in documentaries about the benefits of vaccines is Dr. Paul Offit. Paul Offit has declared many conflicts of interest in his advocacy of vaccines including being a consultant for Merck Pharmaceutical Company. Here are some of Paul Offit’s conflict’s of interest in promoting vaccines.
The government has a duty to demonstrate that the science used in policy development is based on non-biased science and that is why representatives are required to declare COI. A declaration reveals what interests there are in an issue and the public is entitled to see these interests in order to determine if all the science is being assessed in policy development. If COI and the composition of stakeholders on vaccine advisory boards are not publicised then the public cannot assess the validity of the information.
The public should not be required to trust that objective science is being used in policy development: it needs to be demonstrated.
The Significance of Conflicts of Interest in Government Policy
This information is important because the public needs to know whether all the science is being included in policy development and that advisory boards are not selecting the information that suits a chosen outcome.
Ms. Carol Bennett, ex-CEO of the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) informed me on the 7th November 2011 that disclosure of COI was an issue that the CHF was addressing and eventually in 2015 COI for vaccine board representatives were published on the government website.
This issue is about committees being transparent to the public in declaring whose interests they may be representing. Yet the declared COI of government representiatives on vaccine advisory boards are never made easily accessible to the public (over-vaccination). The Australian government states that immunisation policy is for the good of the community therefore it has a duty of care to protect the public interest in government policy and not the vested interests of industry.
Public concerns about the number of vaccines on the childhood schedule are not being acknowledged by journalists and the Australian Government. In 2013, Australia’s Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, “rubbished fear campaigns about the risk of immunisation” instead of providing evidence for its safety by answering the questions that the public are asking. By ignoring these concerns the government is selecting the science that is being used in government policy. This doesn’t make the schedule of vaccines safe and effective. A consensus in science should not be obtained by removing one perspective from the risk analysis.
Minister Plibersek also signed a ‘vaccination pledge’ to increase community vaccination rates on a website that is associated with the Australian Skeptics organisation: an industry lobby group that is peddling misinformation. The Mia Freedman website, Mamamia, regularly has subscribers of the Skeptics lobby groups present pro-vaccination information on this website and they do not provide their qualifications or affiliation with this lobby group with the information they provide on this blog. The Health Minister signed the pledge designed by this website.
On 5th May 2013 Tanya Plibersek stated that “vaccines are 100 percent not linked to autism” but this has not been proven. It is not possible for the government to make this claim because the scientific evidence to prove this statement has not been collected. The vaccination schedule for children has not been trialled in animals or a study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated children (Aust. Health Department). Until the correct scientific studies are completed that “prove” or “disprove” this link, it is not possible for any government to claim that vaccines are “100 percent not the cause of autism” or any other chronic illness that is escalating in children. An evidence-based policy should be based on evidence not “a lack of evidence” to make claims about safety.
There is clear evidence that the vaccination schedule is not safe and the US government has paid out over $2 Billion for vaccine damage claims with the most recent case being The Hannah Polling case in which $1.5 million was paid to the family after she received 9 vaccines in one day and developed autism.
News limited papers and other media are informing the public that consumer concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines are based on “conspiracy theories and dangerous misinformation”. Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist for the The Australian Newspaper (News Ltd), made this statement in reply to requests that these arguments be published in the mainstream media. Another journalist, Sarrah Le Maurquand demonstrated in her reply that journalists are not being encouraged to investigate this issue and think for themselves. Australian journalists and government ministers are required to represent all stakeholders in public health policy and it must be demonstrated that non-biased science has been used. Instead the mainstream media is informing the public that “there is no other side to this debate” as Caroline Marcus from the Telegraph did in April 2013 and Jonathon Holmes from Media Watch in October 2012.
The media is presenting Dr. Rachael Dunlop as a ‘pro-vaccine advocate’ without informing the public of her position as Vice-President of the Australian Skeptics. Rachael Dunlop has presented misinformation on her blog and many other subscribers of this group are using similar strategies. Therefore it is important that her position in this lobby group is openly revealed to the public when she presents information.
A book exposing the influence of industry on government policy is Vaccine Epidemic edited by the Center for Personal Rights. Globally there are many funded lobby groups who are putting out misinformation in the mainstream media and on social websites to influence public behaviour. The influence of these groups on the debate in Australia can be viewed on the Lobby group page of this website. Doctor’s responses to the information presented on this website can be viewed here. [/pane]