Profits, Not Science, Drive Vaccine Mandates

Kristine M. Severyn, RPh., PhD

Who should make decisions about the medical treatment of Ohio's children --- state legislators at the beck and call of pharmaceutical companies, or parents across the state? That's the issue before state lawmakers in Columbus as special interests push for another mandatory vaccine for our schoolchildren, this time for chickenpox (varicella). If the bill passes, chickenpox vaccine, manufactured in human fetal tissue, will be the ninth in the cocktail mix of vaccines required for school attendance. At the urging of vaccine manufacturer, Merck, Senator Bruce Johnson (R-Westerville) introduced Senate Bill 254 which mandates the vaccine for schoolchildren in grades K-12. Ohio marks the latest effort by Merck to require chickenpox vaccine in every state --- a plan which would guarantee Merck annual sales of nearly $7 million for each new class of kindergartners in Ohio alone.

Fetal Tissue Origins

Chickenpox vaccine is produced in lung tissue obtained from two surgically aborted human fetuses.(1,2) Merck's own literature states the vaccine contains "residual components" of fetal lung cells. Many parents find this abhorrent and in direct opposition to their religious beliefs. Informed consent, a basic tenet of ethical medical practice, dictates that Ohio citizens should have a choice whether or not they are injected with another person's body cells.

Favorable Cost-Benefit Lacking

From the medical and health care cost perspectives, chickenpox vaccine is a loser. Indeed, two studies, one funded by Merck, found that only if lost wages are included for a parent to stay home with a sick child is there any cost advantage to using chickenpox vaccine.(3,4)

While providing lifelong immunity, chickenpox disease carries a very low risk of complications and death. Writing in the British medical journal, The Lancet, Dr. Arthur Lavin, Department of Pediatrics, St. Luke's Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, presented concerns that "argue strongly against the licensure of varicella vaccine for healthy children." Dr. Lavin asserted: "[Chickenpox] is not major in the sense of disease mortality or morbidity...Therefore, if healthy children were fully vaccinated it is unclear in what significant way the health of the children or the economic health of their families would be improved."(5)

Legislators For Sale

Senator Grace Drake (R-Solon), Health, Human Services, and Aging Committee Chair, as well as other committee members who considered SB 254, accepted significant campaign contributions from Merck. At the request of a Merck lobbyist, Senator Drake sponsored a bill in 1998 to mandate hepatitis B vaccine for Ohio kindergartners. To hide the legislation from the public, the mandate language was buried in a hazardous waste bill. Senator Drake did nothing to remedy this deception. The other hepatitis B vaccine manufacturer, SmithKline Beecham, lobbied the House Health, Retirement, and Aging Committee.

In 1993 and 1994, Senator Drake opposed legislation to restore vaccine informed consent to Ohio parents. Despite a 94-3 vote in the Ohio House favoring informed consent, Senator Drake refused to hold hearings on the bill after its assignment to her committee.

A recent investigative report in Columbus cited other examples of "symbiosis" between corporate lobbyists and Ohio state lawmakers. Lobbyists and fellow legislators rebuked State Representative Jeff Jacobson's (R-Dayton) legislative efforts to reform lobbying regulations.

Not Just in Ohio

Drug company lobbyists can wear different hats. While collecting between $50,000-$100,000 from vaccine maker Wyeth for Texas lobbying activities, the same lobbyist collects $25,000-$50,000 from the Texas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to encourage new vaccine mandates in Texas.(6) Unlike Texas, lobbying fees are not public information in Ohio.

Pediatricians Beholden to Drug Companies

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a major supporter of mandatory chickenpox and other vaccine mandates across the country, shares incestuous financial ties with Merck. When constructing its new headquarters in suburban Chicago, the AAP solicited funds from Merck, and received $100,000 for its building campaign.

Vaccines represent an economic boon for pediatricians. Profitable well-baby visits are timed to coincide with vaccination schedules established by the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who Sets U. S. Vaccination Policy

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of individuals hand-picked by the CDC, recommends which vaccines are administered to American children. Working mainly in secret, ACIP members frequently have financial links to vaccine manufacturers.

Dependent on CDC funding, state vaccination programs follow CDC directives by influencing state legislators to mandate new vaccines. Federal vaccine funds can be denied to states which do not "vigorously enforce" mandatory vaccination laws.

Conversely, the CDC offers financial bounties to state departments of health for each "fully-vaccinated" child. In a recent year, the Ohio Department of Health received $1 million in such CDC bonus payments.

At CDC National Immunization Conferences, Merck and other vaccine manufacturers wine and dine thousands of attendees who make their living promoting and administering vaccines.

Traveling Circus

As a front for Merck's campaign to enact a chickenpox vaccine mandate in Illinois, the company established and bankrolled the Illinois Children's Health Coalition (ICHC). Upon investigation, the ICHC was found to be no more than a public relations gimmick. Merck's similar campaign moved to Ohio with the introduction of SB 254, this time using the name Ohio Varicella Vaccine Coalition.

Merck consultant, vaccine patent holder, and ACIP member Dr. Paul Offit of Philadelphia, spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council's August 1999 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. State lawmakers from around the country witnessed a well-rehearsed performance extolling the benefits of mandatory vaccination.

Similar productions were staged during 1999 hepatitis B vaccine hearings in Ohio and later in hepatitis B vaccine safety hearings in Washington, D.C. The Washington state-based PKIDS (Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases) favored mandatory hepatitis B vaccine legislation in Ohio, testifying in 1999 at the Ohio Statehouse. Carrying identical scripts, these out-of-state PKIDS moms also testified a few weeks later at congressional hearings in our nation's capital.

The vaccine industry has corrupted government vaccine policymakers, including state legislators. It's about time state lawmakers say "NO" to drug company lobbyists and "YES" to informed consent.


1. Hayflick L. The limited in vitro lifetime of human diploid cell strains. Exp Cell Res. 1965;37:614-636.
2. Jacobs JP, Jones CM, Baille JP. Characteristics of a human diploid cell designated MRC-5. Nature 1970;227:168-170.
3. Lieu TA, et al. Cost-effectiveness of a routine varicella vaccination program for U.S. children. JAMA 1994;271:375-381.
4. Huse DM, et al. Childhood vaccination against chickenpox: an analysis of benefits and costs. J Ped 1994;124(6):869-874.
5. Lavin A. Letter to the Editor. The Lancet 1994;343:1363.
6. See http://www.ethics.state.tx.us. Click on "disclosure filing."

Dr. Severyn, a registered pharmacist with a Ph.D. in biopharmaceutics, is director of the Dayton, Ohio-based Vaccine Policy Institute, (937) 435-4750.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2000:5(5):173-174. Copyright © 2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)