Conflicts of Interest, Rotavirus, Gates, Wakefield, and Argentine Pork

By ACSH Staff — Jan 29, 2010
Dr. Whelan in Medical Progress Today

Dr. Whelan in Medical Progress Today
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is a contributor to the “Second Opinion” feature of the Manhattan Institute's e-newsletter Medical Progress Today. Dr. Whelan joins such esteemed scientific and medical figures as Richard Epstein, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, and ACSH trustee Dr. Thomas Stossel, Director of Translational Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital, in discussing the oft-abused notion of conflict-of-interest.

“The point is that this conflict-of-interest situation has gotten out of control,” says Dr. Whelan. “What people don't realize is that money and funding are not the only sources of conflicts of interest. For example, I'm forbidden from serving on an EPA panel, but someone who is committed to Greenpeace wouldn't be. There is conflict of interest there in terms of priorities.”

Vaccines Save Lives...
The New England Journal of Medicine published two studies investigating the efficacy of the vaccine against the human rotavirus for children in developing countries. One concludes that the vaccine significantly reduced the incidence of severe diarrhea among African infants during the first year of life. The other indicated an “encouraging reduction in diarrhea-related mortality among Mexican children during two consecutive rotavirus seasons after the addition of a rotavirus vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule.”

“Diarrhea is the second most common cause of death for children in developing countries after pneumonia,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “It kills about two million children every year. These two reports both confirm the fact that the rotavirus vaccine will save thousands or hundreds of thousands of children if we can distribute it where it is needed.”

“We would like to point out that one of the two rotavirus vaccines was co-invented by one of ACSH's scientific advisors, Dr. Paul A. Offit,” says Dr. Whelan. “He is a Professor both of Vaccinology and of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, and he is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. We're honored to have such an accomplished advisor. His vaccine is literally saving hundreds of lives per day.”

...So They're a Good Investment
In more good vaccine news, Reuters reports, “Bill and Melinda Gates said on Friday they would spend $10 billion over the next decade to develop and deliver vaccines, an increased commitment that reflects progress in the pipeline of products for immunizing children in the developing world.”

“This is the way capitalism should work,” says Dr. Ross. “He is putting this money into something really effective, whereas luckily we haven't heard anything from him about cleansing the environment of 'toxic chemicals.' We must give credit to him for taking a very effective, targeted, lifesaving approach to charitable giving as opposed to activists, who prefer to wage irrational attacks on substances that have no nexus with human health.”

Long-Overdue Rebuke
The UK's General Medical Council ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in doing his research that led to the infamous 1998 Lancet study linking vaccines to autism. BBC News explains, “The study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles -- but the findings were later discredited.”

“Dr. Wakefield's study was found later to be skewed in the interest of a lawsuit,” says Dr. Ross. “Of course, he's still maintaining that he's innocent, but this council in Britain found that this was unethical. His study was a complete violation of all medical and scientific precepts, a clear-cut case of bad faith from the beginning.”

The Non-Kosher Alternative to Viagra?
In a speech announcing subsidies for Argentina's pork industry, the country's president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said that eating pork improves sexual activity. The Associated Press quotes her as saying, “It is much more gratifying to eat some grilled pork than to take Viagra.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (

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