Note: This is Part V in a series of articles adapted from the second Children's Health Defense eBook: Conflicts of Interest Undermine Children's Health. The first eBook, The Sickest Generation: The Facts Behind the Children's Health Crisis and Why It Needs to End, described how children's health began to worsen dramatically in the late 1980s following fateful changes in the childhood vaccine schedule.]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has issued annual vaccine recommendations for the U.S. civilian population since 1995. ACIP works in partnership with leading medical trade organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
ACIP's industry-beholden membership roster reads like a "who's who" of the individuals and organizations who spearhead the nation's vaccine business: fifteen voting members from leading medical schools, children's hospitals and universities; eight ex officio members from federal agencies such as the FDA and the Department of Defense (DOD); and thirty non-voting representatives serving as liaisons with entities ranging from Sanofi to Cigna and Planned Parenthood (with the latter being a leading promoter and provider of HPV vaccines).
A tangled web
The longstanding conflicts of interest that hold ACIP members captive to pharmaceutical industry interests are well known and well documented. In the early 2000s, a four-month investigation by United Press International (UPI) identified "a web of close ties" and financial entanglements between ACIP members and vaccine companies, including:
Sharing vaccine patents
Owning vaccine company stock
Getting research funding or money to monitor vaccine testing
Receiving funding for academic departments or appointments
According to an investigation by the Committee on Government Reform in 2000, the CDC not only frequently grants waivers but also looks the other way when ACIP members provide incomplete financial disclosure.
In 2003, Congressman Dan Burton described the "paradox" of the CDC "routinely allow[ing] scientists with blatant conflicts of interest to serve on influential advisory committees that make recommendations on new vaccines, as well as policy matters," even though "these same scientists have financial ties, academic affiliations, and other vested interests in the products and companies for which they are supposed to be providing unbiased oversight."
As per the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), individuals appointed to ACIP must file an Office of Government Ethics form and annually update a financial disclosure report. Voting members also are expected to publicly disclose "all vaccine-related interests and work" at the beginning of each ACIP meeting. However, the CDC has shown itself only too willing to issue conflicts of interest waivers if it ascertains (as it routinely does) that "the need for the individual's services outweighs the potential for conflicts of interest created by the financial interests involved." According to an investigation by the Committee on Government Reform in 2000, the CDC not only frequently grants waivers but also looks the other way when ACIP members provide incomplete financial disclosure. Moreover, a loophole allows a considerable amount of ACIP's work to get done in Work Groups whose members are exempt from the FACA procedural conflict-of-interest requirements, even though the Work Groups "serve a key scientific role in support of vaccine policy development."
After ACIP makes its vaccine recommendations, the CDC publishes them in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The recommendations (in CDC officials' own words) "have [a] major impact on immunization policies and practice in the United States and in other countries." Stated another way, ACIP's "imprimatur" is a "golden ticket" for vaccine manufacturers. Vaccines on the CDC's schedule become virtually mandatory for American children attending a "public or private elementary, middle or secondary school, child care center, nursery school, family day care home or developmental center."
At present, the childhood vaccine schedule requires almost six dozen doses through age 18 for sixteen diseases.
Vaccine exemptions are currently available to varying degrees in 47 states for medical, religious or philosophical reasons. Reflecting the public's growing concerns about vaccine safety, the use of non-medical exemptions increased by 19% from 2009 to 2013. However, all three types of exemptions are under aggressive attack. Supported by pharmaceutical industry lobbying and CDC edicts, 12 of 13 exemption-related bills signed into law between 2011 and 2017 "limited the ability to exempt," erecting more legal barriers for concerned parents.