Sometimes the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend delays my writing about something that caught my interest (that, and my wife and I agreeing to foster a litter of puppies for a local animal shelter). Before the holiday, I had seen a rather long post over on Children’s Health Defense (CHD), the website of one of the oldest and most influential antivaxxers out there, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and I knew I had my topic. The article was published the day before Thanksgiving and is titled “14 ACIP Members Who Voted to Jab Your Young Children — and Their Big Ties to Big Pharma“. Unlike most articles on CHD, it was not credited to any single author, but rather to the Children’s Health Defense Team. Whenever I see that credit, I can’t help but speculate that maybe no one wanted to take personal credit for this article because it’s so misleading and bad, but then I remember: This is RFK Jr.’s website. Misleading is his business model.
Then I saw that there was a second article with the same theme credited to the same team, “17 Pharma Henchmen Who Voted to Experiment on Your Kids — and How to Shun Them“. This article is referring to the members of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), the committee that had previous decided to issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11. I was sensing a theme.
But back to the first article that had caught my attention. It was referring to the decision announced by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) earlier this month to recommend the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years of age after VRBPAC had decided to recommend the EUA for that age group. ACIP reviewed the evidence regarding the balance of benefits versus risks in vaccinating children 5-11 years old and concluded that the benefits outweigh the risks. Naturally, as has been the case all along with any decision by the FDA’s VRBPAC and CDC’s ACIP to expand the EUA for COVID-19 vaccines, this announcement didn’t sit well with antivaxxers like RFK Jr., leading to articles like the one on the CHD website, with an “editor’s note” saying:
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the Oct. 26 meeting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), Children’s Health Defense argued it is time to shun the individuals — and institutions — that are selling out America’s children without even a prick of conscience. At the close of this article about the members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), we reiterate our list of suggestions for shunning.
I can’t resist a bit of snark here by expressing my amusement how the editor of CHD linked the word “conscience” to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of the word. That’s some world-class argumentation there! I’m torn between wondering if CHD did this just to appear more authoritative or if its editor thinks its readers are too ignorant to know the definition of the word “conscience”. Take your pick.
Still, the reason I was drawn to these articles is because they collectively demonstrate a lot about the antivaccine mentality. First of all, as I have argued many times before, if all science denial is based in conspiracy theory (and it is), then the denial of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is science denial on steroids, at least when it comes to the conspiracy theory aspect. The central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement is simple, when boiled down to its essence, but can rapidly become very complicated as the various layers of conspiracy theory are piled on. In brief, the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement posits that vaccines are harmful and ineffective, but that “they” don’t want you to know about it, the “they” behind the coverup apparently being big pharma, doctors, the FDA, the CDC, various state medical boards, basically every legitimate medical professional society (as opposed to faux medical professional societies functioning as ideological advocacy groups disguised as medical societies—like the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, or AAPS). The motivations behind the efforts of “them” to promote vaccination—and, of course, suppress the “truth about vaccines” showing how horrible and ineffective they are—include, as always, money and the “pharma shill gambit“, but also a desire for power, tyranny, and “control”.
None of this is to argue that conflicts of interest (COIs) aren’t important, particularly undisclosed conflicts of interest. Indeed, I have argued for a broader definition of such COIs, which is one reason why when I co-authored a BMJ article about the American Institute for Economic Research‘s (AIER’s) role in drafting the eugenics-adjacent Great Barrington Declaration as part of the new merchants of doubt, I insisted on including in the disclosures section my role as editor of this blog and a mention that I had previously written posts critical of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD). It’s also why I keep harping on AIER, despite its insistence that it never paid the GBD signatories, to publicly reveal whether it paid for their travel and lodging. However, such a broader definition of COI is not what antivaxxers are about, as you will see. CHD’s message is that 14 members of ACIP have “deep ties” to pharma. But do they?
Before ACIP and its “pharma ties,” some antivaccine nonsense
You can tell where CHD is coming from right from the opening volley in its ACIP article, which is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (at least not any reasonable scientific objections):
On Nov. 2, the members of ACIP voted 14–0 to recommend Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) COVID shot for children 5 –11 years old.
Committee members readily voted “yes” despite many unknowns about long-term safety, including a complete lack of data on the risk of heart problems like the ones experienced by some adolescents who received COVID vaccines.
Neither the disgracefully unscientific vote nor CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s prompt endorsement came as a surprise. Though billed as “independent,” the 14 ACIP members — like the 17 members of FDA’s VRBPAC who voted the same way the previous week — have deep ties to pharma, with careers that hinge on promoting and rubber-stamping the United States’ destructive one-size-fits-all vaccination agenda.
Describing the VRBPAC and ACIP meetings as “a total sham,” Children’s Health Defense President Mary Holland said, “Sadly, approval from these committees means nothing in terms of safety.”
Political scientist Toby Rogers agreed, stating the ACIP meeting “was not a scientific review. It was banal bureaucrats announcing plans for a Blitzkrieg and the bought white coats were cheering them on.”
With their vote to give young children the dangerous injections, ACIP members signaled that they, too, deserve to be shunned, along with the powerful institutions with which they are affiliated. The latter include the nation’s top universities and leading pediatric hospitals.
I couldn’t help but note the addition of the word “Blitzkrieg” in the introduction. It’s actually a rather subtle Godwin for antivaxxers (no mention of Nuremberg…yet) and adds just the right touch of comparing vaccine advocates to Nazis, and no antivaccine screed would be complete without that. The visual imagery lurking in the background, though, is unmistakably Adolf Hitler giving a speech to cheering crowds about invading Poland.
Given the gravity of the charge, namely that all these ACIP members are so utterly compromised by filthy pharma lucre and/or “deep ties” to pharma, I was expecting something more. I had to wait, because next CHD went on to rant:
Without exception, all the universities at which ACIP members have appointments — Brown, Drexel, Harvard, Michigan State, Ohio State, Stanford, University of Maryland, University of Washington, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — have mandated COVID vaccines.
Oh, dear. So has my university! Whatever will I do? I must be hopelessly compromised! No, wait! I had zero to do with my university’s decision. Of course, I fully approve of the vaccine mandate at my university. Indeed, if anything, I don’t think it goes quite far enough, because it allows for religious exemptions in addition to medical exemptions, but I realize that’s a fight vaccine advocates in few areas are likely to win in the current political environment. In any event, this charge is rather silly even by CHD standards. Where’s the evidence that any of these ACIP members had anything to do with drafting the COVID-19 vaccine requirements at these universities, and even if any of them did, so what? Apparently to CHD, you can only be “free of COI” in this respect if you actively opposed the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at your university. I also can’t help but mention, even if it might cause me some trouble if certain people read this, that I was very disappointed in both of the major hospitals where I work for being very slow to require COVID-19 vaccination of their doctors, nurses, and staff. (One of them only just requested that I upload my vaccination card before December 1.) Would that make me more acceptable as an ACIP member to RFK Jr.? Somehow, I doubt it. Funny how COIs like this only work in one direction, though.
It’s also funny how before getting to “naming names,” the CHD Team Gish gallops through a veritable antivaccine “greatest hits” about COVID-19 vaccines, including citing Paul Thacker’s awful and highly deceptive BMJ “investigation” claiming sloppy research practices at a clinical research organization (CRO) subcontracted by Pfizer last year to run three sites (out of 153) doing the initial phase 3 clinical trial of its vaccine, claims about the use of “fetal cell lines” in developing COVID-19 vaccines, and, of course, the “toxins” gambit, this time with a hilarious bit that, I must admit, I had never heard before:
Equally disturbingly, Strickler McAtee told other journalists that Pfizer’s vaccine exhibits an unusual fluorescent blue glow, stating she had “never once [previously] seen anything do that, not even close” during her 10-year career inspecting “hundreds of thousands of units” of vaccines. She also reports that her co-workers at the plant are being unprecedentedly kept in the dark about what the vaccine’s ingredients are.
Unsurprisingly, both articles come from conspiracy sites like LifeSite News. It was also McAtee, whoever she is, is claiming that there’s luciferase in the Pfizer vaccine. Here’s the thing. Luciferase is an enzyme that takes a substrate and then converts it into a luminescent—not fluorescent—compound. In fact, there are multiple different kinds of luciferase, the most commonly used type being the enzyme that fireflies use to produce that pretty glow at night, although another common type comes from the sea pansy. They are, in fact, very “natural” in that they are enzymes that were found in nature. Scientists recognized their usefulness as markers of gene expression for experiments; so they isolated and cloned the genes for these enzymes and plopped them into various plasmid expression vectors. Here’s the thing. None of these enzymes produce bioluminescence—again, not fluorescence—unless the substrate for the enzyme is present and the temperature is correct. Basically, none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain luciferase, and even if they did they wouldn’t glow because they don’t contain the substrate, and even if they did contain substrate, they’d have to be at room temperature (or, better yet 37°C) to produce their characteristic luminescence. (The Pfizer COVID vaccine needs to be stored at -70°C or at least on dry ice.)
And, no, the fact that those making this claim about a “blue glow” cite a paper from last year describing the discovery of a previously undescribed type luciferase produced by the larvae of cave worms that produced blue bioluminescence does not make this nonsense any more plausible. That the sources cite such a paper tells me that either they are ignorant of the science or know that their readers are ignorant and don’t know that there are a number of kinds of luciferase. (Take your pick.) In any event, this kind of luciferase is not used in biological research as a marker. So even if the Pfizer vaccine contained luciferase (which it does not) it would not contain this specific luciferase enzyme, which is why I laughed heartily when I read this:
Strickler told LifeSite that she emailed the company and asked if luciferase was in the Covid vaccine and was told that it was “only used in the testing of the vaccine,” but would not be included in the final product. “But the way I see this is the whole thing is experimental,” Strickler said.
Again, the sorts of luciferase enzymes used in many molecular biology generally produce a greenish-yellow or red light, you know, just like the firefly species from which it originated! It is true that Renillaluciferase, which is sometimes used as a marker, produces more of a green to greenish-blue glow, which is why it is often used with in dual luciferase assays with firefly luciferase when two different colors are needed to distinguish two different reactions, but in general firefly luciferase is the workhorse, so much so that when scientists say “luciferase” it’s generally assumed that they mean firefly luciferase. If they don’t, they will specify the type of luciferase. I discussed the use of luciferase in the testing of the Pfizer vaccine a lot more here. The only reason I spent a couple of paragraphs on this nonsense is to demonstrate that CHD is going to spew unrelated antivax misinformation, even when it’s trying to tar ACIP members as pharma shills. RFK Jr. and his minions just can’t help themselves.
Then there’s this:
Pediatric hospitals, meanwhile, are playing a frontline role as COVID vaccination sites. Promoting the injection for 5-year-olds, First Lady Jill Biden visited Texas Children’s Hospital straight away, applauding the hospital for the 39,000 pediatric vaccine appointments it had already scheduled.
Also worthy of shunning are the 20,000 individual vaccine providers who were pre-positioned to “hit the ground running” and “get shots in little arms.”
Within two days of ACIP’s and Walensky’s verdicts, these providers had administered the jab to thousands of 5- to 11-year-olds, and within the first week, according to the White House, 900,000 children had been injected.
It’s also funny—but not surprising—that CHD views advocating for vaccines and being ready to vaccinate children against a serious infectious disease as bad things, something so horrible that either of them should disqualify you from serving on ACIP and make you worthy of “shunning.” With that background, let’s move on to see what CHD views as so horrible that shunning is demanded.
“Conflicts of interest”
So CHD has two articles, one on ACIP members and one on the members of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC, the committee that decides to issue EUAs or full approval for vaccines and other biological products) alleging horrific COIs. Because between the two committees there are 31 members and both articles are long, I decided to look for the absolute worst, most damning “COIs” that RFK Jr. and his minions could come up with, although I will start with the chairs of both committees. First, here’s CHD about ACIP’s chair Dr. Grace Lee:
Dr. Grace Lee ([email protected]) chaired the November ACIP deliberations. Lee has been associate chief medical officer for practice innovation at Stanford Children’s Health and a pediatrics professor at Stanford School of Medicine since 2017, after having spent two decades at Harvard and Boston-area hospitals.
In addition to policy work focusing on financial rewards and penalties to reshape hospital performance, Lee has built her reputation by shoring up the pretense that the nation has a functioning vaccine safety surveillance system.
Lee served as past principal investigator for the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), a large database that includes comprehensive longitudinal medical and vaccination records for two million children and seven million adults. Although VSD analyses have the potential to permit enlightening vaccinated-unvaccinated comparisons of health outcomes, the CDC has sole access to the data.
Where I see someone with fantastic qualifications to chair ACIP, having actually run one of the largest vaccine safety surveillance systems in the US, antivaxxers of course see a hopelessly conflicted person. First, it’s a lie that the CDC has “sole access” to VSD data. It does not. In fact, the CDC does not control who gets access to VSD data. The National Center for Health Statistics Research Data Center (NCHS RDC) does, as I will discuss. To lead to this, I like to point to an example from 2003, when antivax father-and-son grifters Mark and David Geier got access to VSD data and were busted trying to merge different VSD datasets in a way that could have potentially linked personally identifiable fields to adverse events reports, an analysis that was not included in the institutional review board (IRB)-approved protocol. (They also tried to abscond with renamed files.) At the time, the Geiers were looking for evidence in the VSD that thimerosal-containing vaccines were linked with an increased risk of autism. Funny how CHD doesn’t mention that part when complaining about the VSD.
In any event, any investigator who wants to can access publicly available VSD datasets. For more analyses not possible with those datasets, investigators can submit a research proposal to NCHS RDC and the IRBs of the relevant participating VSD sites using a process described in more detail here. Note again that the CDC doesn’t actually even control access to the data. Basically, if CHD wants access to VSD data, all they have to do is to develop a scientifically and ethically sound research protocol and submit it to the RDC and the relevant IRBs. One wonders why they haven’t. (Actually, I at least do not.)
Now let’s look at VRBPAC’s chair:
Dr. Arnold Monto ([email protected]) is professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Monto has been acting chair for VRBPAC’s COVID-19 vaccine deliberations since October 2020. Previously, he was a four-year VRBPAC member (through January 2020).
Monto was a key player in pandemic planning and response for many decades, including during past headline-grabbing pandemics (real or invented) such as the 1968 Hong Kong influenza, bird flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Monto is a key proponent of the unproven theory that schoolchildren must be vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity.”
He was a full member of VRBPAC and has been a key player in pandemic planning and response for decades? He, too, certainly sounds eminently qualified to me to be chairing his committee. But not to CHD, obiously.
So tell us more, cranks:
Notably, the University of Michigan houses the nation’s #5-ranked School of Public Health and one of the country’s largest university health systems. In 2020, the university received $144 million in revenue via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — most of which (94%) was associated with the Provider Relief Fund administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The CARES monies represent an amount nearly equal to what the university received in private gifts ($149 million) from foundations and others.
The University of Michigan has been embroiled in a massive sex abuse scandal, with allegations that it covered up decades of abuse by the university’s late athletic physician Robert Anderson — reportedly “the largest scale of sexual abuse by a single person in U.S. history.”
Let’s see. Just because U. of M., one of the top medical schools in the country and arguably the top public medical school in the country—and I’m not just saying that because I graduated from there—received lots of coronavirus aid money and receives lots of federal grant funding, Dr. Monto is…conflicted? Seriously, this is the same sort of “law of contagion”-like COI to which I’ve been subjected. You might remember that because my university received a large grant from Sanofi-Aventis antivaxxers tried to portray me as hopelessly in the pocket of big pharma, even though I never got even a tiny taste of that sweet sweet pharma lucre and had nothing to do with the research projects funded.
Here’s the worst RFK Jr. could apparently come up with about Dr. Monto:
- Monto founded and co-directs the University of Michigan-based Michigan Influenza Center, one of five centers across the country that collects data for CDC.
- Monto has served as principal investigator on studies funded by CDC, the National NIH and Sanofi Pasteur.
- According to POGO and Open Payments, between 2014–2020, Monto received 117 payments totaling more than $176,000 (65% for consulting and speaking fees) from Pfizer as well as Seqirus, Hoffmann-La Roche, Sanofi, Genentech, Novartis and Shionogi.
- Monto has consulted for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- In earlier clinical trials (2006–2008 and 2011–2013), Monto laid the groundwork for the “nonpharmaceutical interventions” that have been brought to the fore during COVID (e.g., masking, “sequestration” and social distancing).
So I’ll accept that receiving consulting fees is a legitimate COI, but it’s not an undisclosed COI as far as I can tell. Similarly, having served as PI of a Sanofi Pasteur study is a legitimate COI. Even so, is this so “conflicted” that Dr. Monto would steer the committee towards whatever pharma wants? Hardly. I also find it odd that the mention of his having received consulting fees from pharmaceutical companies is buried in a list of bullet points, rather than front and center, given that this is arguably a COI, while the other “COIs” that CHD rants about are not. It just goes to show how warped RFK Jr.’s perspective is.
Let’s see some of the other “worst” COIs, starting with this VRBPAC member:
Dr. Hayley Gans ([email protected]) is a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University Medical Center and has served on VRBPAC since mid-2019. Gans has been at Stanford since her medical internship and residency in the early 1990s.
In 2015, Stanford received $50 million from the Gates Foundation to “accelerate” efforts in vaccine development. Unsurprisingly, Gans is a staunch vaccine proponent, stating, “History and science support vaccines as one of the safest and most effective infectious disease prevention strategies, second to clean water.”
The bulk of Gans’ research and publications focus on infant immunity and the “challenges of tailoring vaccines and effective immunizations for young children,” notably measles vaccines made by Merck.
Gans advocates vaccinating severely immunocompromised children and adults, including those about to receive organ transplants.
At the December 2020 meeting at which VRBPAC recommended Pfizer’s first EUA, Gans initially expressed reservations about including 16- and 17-year-olds but then voted with the majority anyway in favor of the vaccine for those 16 and up.
Note again the homeopathy-like “law of contagion”-style COI: Just because Stanford University received money from the “evil” Gates Foundation, Dr. Gans must be hopelessly conflicted. (You know that if CHD could show that she had received any of that money herself they’d have been all over it; in fact, at the time Dr. Mark Davis was running the center that got the money to develop new vaccines.)
Dr. Gans did get $4,700 from GlaxoSmithKline, which seems to be a pretty small price to agree to be a pharma shill, and apparently consulted with Merck, but here’s the thing. Few are the heavy hitter scientists who’ve never, ever in their entire career accepted money from pharmaceutical companies to fund research. Also horrible to CHD is the fact that Dr. Gans has received funding/grant support from the National Institute of Health’s National Vaccine Program Office and has consulted for Department of Health and Human Services. Again, one thing that antivaxxers frequently get wrong is their belief that if you’ve ever received grant funding from the NIH you must be hopelessly in the pocket of the powers-that-be. They don’t understand that, for instance, NIH grant applications go through multiple rigorous levels of review, starting with a study section review, and that reviewers really do concentrate almost exclusively on the science, not your belief system.
I rapidly got tired of all the innuendo that had nothing to do with any payments from pharmaceutical companies; so I went through and looked for just that. The following ACIP members were reported to have received payments from pharmaceutical companies: Oliver Brooks, Wilbur Chen, Camille Kotton, Katherine Poehling, Pablo Sanchez, and Helen Keipp Talbot. In addition, the following VRBPAC members received funding from pharmaceutical companies: Arthur Monto, Hayley Gans, Ofer Levy, Michael Nelson, Steven Pergam, and Jay Portnoy. Of course, both VRBPAC and ACIP have very stringent reporting requirements governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, in which all advisory committee members are required to report all paid or unpaid positions and all income or gifts greater than $1,000.
Indeed, the COI regulations are so stringent that even CHD had to admit that pharma’s representative on VRBPAC, Paula Annunziato of Merck, is a non-voting member. That’s right, pharma is represented on VRBPAC, but only as non-voting members.
Meanwhile for other members, CHD goes all “law of contagion” again:
Dr. H.. Cody Meissner ([email protected]) is professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric infectious disease at Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine, an institution to which he appears quite loyal.
After going to medical school at Tufts in the early 1970s, Meissner remained in Boston for postgraduate training at Boston Floating Hospital, Dana Farber and Harvard, devoting a brief two years to NIH before accepting a faculty position at Tufts in 1979.
Since 2014, Tufts Medical Center has received more than $14 million in “general payments” from companies that include Boston Scientific, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Jansswen, Biogen, Amgen, Pfizer, Gyrus Acmi, Sanofi, Otsuka and Genentech.
More significantly, Tufts has received more than $38.5 million in research payments — with Pfizer as the top funder (12% of total). Other biopharma companies providing research monies include Merck, Gilead, Shire, Takeda, Abiomed, Otsuka, Novartis and AbbVie.
- Meissner has served on ACIP since 2008 as well as on various committees of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a medical trade group notorious for its own conflicts of interest.
- Since 2010, Meissner has sat on the Massachusetts Vaccine Purchasing Advisory Council and, since 2017, on HHS’s National Vaccine Advisory Committee.
These are bad things exactly…why?
Then there’s this:
Patrick Moore, M.D., MPH ([email protected]) has been a professor of microbiology and medical genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) since 2002. Pittsburgh is home to influential foundations such as the Richard King Mellon Foundation — which just announced a $150 million grant for the city’s development of science, technology, robotics and manufacturing — and the Pittsburgh Foundation. Moore holds the Pittsburgh Foundation Endowed Chair in Innovative Cancer Research.
Moore had a varied career prior to settling at Pittsburgh, including (like CDC’s Amanda Cohn) a two-year stint as a CDC EIS officer (in the “special pathogens” branch), some time at CDC’s Fort Collins lab, two years as Deputy Commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and eight years in Columbia University’s epidemiology division.
See the game here? If you are faculty at a medical school that has ever received pharmaceutical funding, particularly from Pfizer, you’re hopelessly conflicted. Again, this is no different than what antivaxxers tried to do to me 11 years ago. It’s worse than that, though. If your university has ever received grants from any foundation that RFK Jr. doesn’t like, again you’re hopelessly conflicted. RFK Jr. also either doesn’t understand or knows that his readers don’t understand (take your pick) the nature of endowed chairs, in which the endowment-granting agency has no say over who is chosen for the chair or how the funding for the chair is used.
Then there’s this:
Melinda Wharton, M.D., MPH ([email protected]), the second CDC member of VRBPAC, is director of the Immunization Services Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Wharton’s training spans Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan and Duke University.
Wharton’s entrée into CDC was as an EIS officer in the mid-1980s, followed by “positions of increasing responsibility” in CDC’s immunization program through the present day.
The Defender reported in January that concomitant with the plummeting vaccination rates triggered by COVID lockdowns was “an overall drop in reports of infant vaccine adverse events,” including “a precipitous drop in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) reports” — the lowest yearly number recorded in the history of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
This good news did not stop Wharton from fretting over “lagging” childhood vaccination rates.
The claim that lagging vaccination rates had decreased the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) comes from the deceptive use of statistics by two antivaxxers, Amy Becker and Mark Blaxill. The claim that vaccines cause SIDS is a longstanding one in the antivaccine movement that’s led grieving mothers to become antivaccine activists. The bottom line is that vaccines, if anything, likely protect against SIDS; at the very worst we know that the are not linked with it. Of course, to RFK Jr., Dr. Wharton’s real sin is to be long serving high ranking career official at the CDC, given that the CDC is one of the triumvirate of key villains of the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement. (The other two are the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
CHD seems especially peeved at members of these two committees who don’t have identifiable financial COIs but are interested in health disparities and equity in access to health care. In one case, ACIP’s Beth Bell, they go to rather ridiculous extremes:
At UW, Bell is on faculty at the UW Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness (formerly called, until fall 2020, the MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security), which “harness[es] big data and forward-thinking strategies to devise more unified approaches to current and future health security risks.”
“Health security” and biosecurity are the linchpin buzzwords that global technocrats are using to push for complete control over people’s “ability to work, to socialize, to travel, conduct business, access public services and to purchase essential goods and services.”
Like many of the individuals who make their way onto FDA and CDC committees, Bell started her CDC career as an officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), a branch that journalist Jon Rappoport has dubbed the “medical CIA.”
As Rappoport notes, EIS graduates’ occupancy of “key positions in the overall medical cartel” furnishes an “unparalleled opportunity” to control information — and disseminate disinformation.
You see where this is going, right? Of course, as I’ve described before, Jon Rappoport is a major antivaccine conspiracy theorist. Examples of his misinformation include claims that COVID-19 vaccines are part of a “global depopulation agenda“. Before the pandemic, Rappoport was known for having promoted conspiracy theories about Ebola and claims that the tetanus vaccine was an example of “racist population control” in Kenya based on the false antivax claim that the vaccine was sterilizing young women.
It gets “better”:
Bell’s comments about wanting to make sure “socially vulnerable” communities and people of color have access to COVID shots echo troubling racially oriented remarks made by Melinda Gates early on in the pandemic. Located in Gates’ backyard, UW not only benefits from close ties with and extensive funding from the Gates Foundation — an organization tainted by allegations of medical experimentation and an underlying eugenicist ideology — but also enjoys extensive support from Microsoft.
The theme emerges again. Not only is Bell somehow tainted because UW receives funding from the Gates Foundation, but she is linked to a “eugenicist agenda.” Where did that come from? It came from a reasonable speculation by Bill Gates about hard trade-offs about funding medical care, particularly in the last three months of life:
You’re raising tuitions at the University of California as rapidly as they can and so the access that used to be available to the middle class or whatever is just rapidly going away. That’s a trade-off society’s making because of very, very high medical costs and a lack of willingness to say, you know, “Is spending a million dollars on that last three months of life for that patient—would it be better not to lay off those 10 teachers and to make that trade off in medical cost?” But that’s called the “death panel” and you’re not supposed to have that discussion.
Asking this question is, of course, not “eugenicist,” but a simple question of financial trade-offs versus ethics. No one is saying not to provide any end-of-life care, but it is questionable whether very expensive heroic care benefits either the dying or society. This is a discussion that bioethicists deal with all the time, but because Bill Gates brought it up it’s “eugenicist.” Of course, the irony is that it is the antivaxxers who advocate, rather than vaccinating as much of the population as possible, just letting the virus rip through the population in order to achieve “natural herd immunity,” never mind that such a strategy will result in millions more deaths around the world. Truly, it is antivaxxers who are the eugenicists.
What is to be done?
Far be it from me to deny that financial COIs are important and should be disclosed, even if they are small. I cringe whenever I hear colleagues claim that their judgment is not at all affected by tangible rewards, be they financial or just meals or pharma tchotchkes like pens, mugs, or folders. Such denial is usually based in hubris, the belief that one is immune to normal human tendencies that research has demonstrated again and again. Issues of regulatory capture and “revolving doors” between academia, government, and pharma are real concerns.
That being said, it is not real-world practical solutions to these problems that RFK Jr. is looking for when he castigates ACIP and VRBPAC members as mindless pharma shills who’ve sold out our children. Among the issues of research and consulting payments from pharma that some of the members of these two committees have received (which make up a shockingly small proportion of the two articles), he basically tries to poison the well against everybody by throwing anything he can find against the wall and seeing if it will stick, including trying to tar anyone whose university has ever accepted research funding from a pharmaceutical company (related to vaccines or not), the Gates Foundation, or any other foundation that RFK Jr. deems to be evil, whether the member received any of that funding or not. Again, I’ve been at the receiving end of this tactic in my own way, even though I never received even a tiny portion of the largess that my university received. I refer to the “law of contagion” from homeopathy to describe this, because that’s what it reminds me of. Apparently if a university has ever been in contact with pharmaceutical company money, it is hopelessly compromised, and therefore every one of its faculty is hopelessly compromised. That is patently ridiculous, but antivaxxers eat it up.
Finally, given the current capitalist society that we have, no major scientific breakthrough can be turned into a widely available medical product or device that can benefit the populace without the involvement of pharmaceutical and device companies. As a result, the heaviest hitters in medicine and medical science will often have consulted for or received research funding from pharmaceutical or device companies, sometimes substantial amounts, just because they want to see their discoveries turned into medicines, vaccines, or devices that benefit humanity. There are a number of possible responses to this issue, such as more public funding of research, with government and universities getting a share of the returns from any products developed, as well as more rigorous reporting of potential financial conflicts of interest. Again, practical, workable, real-world solutions to real issues are not what RFK Jr. is about. What he is about is demonizing VRBPAC and ACIP members as greedy pharma drones who decided to issue an EUA for the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11 not because they believed that the data show that the benefits outweigh the risks, but rather because of greed.
That’s because part of the central conspiracy of the antivaccine movement is that no one can ever be pro-vaccine because of a rational evaluation of the risk-benefit ratio of vaccinating. It must be because they are blinded by ideology or in the pockets of big pharma, and these CHD articles reflect that. In fact, I would say that it is RFK Jr. and his antivaccine propagandists who should be shunned, not any of the members of VRBPAC or ACIP.