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Press not likely to fall for latest anti-vaccine ruse

September 14th, 2009 · 8 Comments · Careless sourcing

The fallout from NBC Dateline’s report about a disgraced UK physician continues. One of the anti-vaccine groups to feel the pain was the National Autism Association, whose major asset is its legitimate sounding name. Don’t let that fool you.

One week after the episode appeared, the NAA issued a press release claiming that Dr. Paul Offit hid his financial interests from Matt Lauer and NBC Dateline, thus jeopardizing the nation’s swine flu vaccine program.

Yet Lauer very clearly says in the interview:

“Dr. Offit is a target. Not just for supporting vaccine safety, but because he himself made millions of dollars for inventing a vaccine.”

The NAA’s only quoted sources for this “news” are the group’s attorney and its president. For good measure, the NAA hangs its charge on erroneous estimates of Offit’s financial reward for inventing a life-saving vaccine, RotaTeq:

Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who was interviewed for a Dateline NBC television special, failed to tell millions of viewers that while he was promoting MMR as safe he had also made tens of millions of dollars from selling another vaccine patent to Merck, which is the manufacturer of MMR. According to CHOP documents, Offit’s share of a royalty sale for the Rotateq vaccine to Merck is a minimum of $29 million and may approach $50 million.

But a far more competent investigation by Sullivan at LeftBrainRightBrain found that Offit’s compensation is about $6 million, which is easily determined by following a formula posted on the website of Offit’s employer, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

When asked whether a retraction is coming, an NAA publicist responded “We have no plans at the moment to act on this or any other new information, which at the most amounts to a distinction without a difference.”

When contacted by AutismNewsBeat, NAA president Wendy Fournier simply said “No comment.”

The NAA release makes several other demonstrably wrong assertions:

  • That Offt was a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice when it voted to include rotavirus vaccine in the Vaccines for Children program, “which ultimately made his Rotateq product worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Merck.” That vote came in 2006, three years after Offit was no longer a voting member.
  • That Offit “does not treat children with autism.” Dr. Offit is an infectious disease expert and a pediatrician, and treats children, autistic and otherwise.
  • That Offit is a paid consultant for Merck. He is not.

Offit addressed these and other falsehoods on Sept. 9, in a correspondence with blogger Kim Wombles, which you can read here.

The National Autism Association lists its headquarters as Nixa, MO. But its latest press release names Austin, Texas, in the dateline. Austin is home to Thoughtful House, an “alternative health clinic” run by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who prefers not to have the focus on himself for a while.


8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sullivan // Sep 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I think Dr. Offit says it best– he is not their enemy, the data are their enemy.

    It isn’t like they don’t fight data too–the “fourteen studies dot com” website is a great example of attacks on science.

  • 2 David N. Brown // Sep 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    A possible new development: The Reuters link to the press release still works, but I don’t see the story when I enter “Offit” as a search term. Could this mean Reuters is deleting the article?
    If so, it’s not enough. I call on everyone to keep up pressure on Reuters until they issue an open correction.

  • 3 Peter Arnold // Sep 15, 2009 at 1:19 am

    David: It was not a Reuters story. They merely repost press releases frm PR Newswire. If you check you will find countless such press releases posted every day. Lots of other sites do the same.

    This is the benefit of paying for press releases to be issued by PR Newswire.

  • 4 Squillo // Sep 15, 2009 at 8:40 am

    When I contacted the NAA to request their source for the figures, Jim Moody directed me to Handley’s Offit smear site, and to the AoA article on Offit.

  • 5 Sullivan // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:01 am

    David: It was not a Reuters story.

    That was obvious, even to the readers of the Age of Autism blog. Which begs the question-why did they run their piece with “Reuters Reports” as the title?

    David N. Brown didn’t say that it was a story. But, since Reuters picked it up and since people are making it seem like that gives the press release credibility as a “story”, I would be think it appropriate for Reuters to pull it.

  • 6 Sullivan // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:49 am

    When I contacted the NAA to request their source for the figures, Jim Moody directed me to Handley’s Offit smear site, and to the AoA article on Offit.

    Talk about circular reasoning.

    If reasoning can be applied here.

  • 7 blog-thing : Patent Nonsense // Sep 15, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    [...] Brain Right Brain Autism News Beat Confutata Countering Age of [...]

  • 8 David N. Brown // Sep 28, 2009 at 1:42 am

    I have a new article on Olmstead and Blaxill’s original story up on evilpossum.weebly. A conclusion I’ve drawn is that these authors probably knowingly omitted the fact that all three Rotateq inventors were CHOP employees.
    As far as the history of the article, I was always aware that NAA was taking “credit” for it. But, I’ve seen it argued that it was given to them by Thoughtful House.

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