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Vaccines and Big Pharma: An Insider's Perspective
A neighbor of mine, lovely guy and terrific musician, is a staunch anti-vaxxer. He is very vocal about his view that vaccines are highly dangerous and exist only to make money for Big Pharma. (He also believes that the world is run by a small cabal called the Build-a-Bear Bilderberg Group, and that diet soda is an experiment to test poisons, which is why Obama never drank it. And that Michelle Obama is a man. Seriously.)
Anyway, I asked him as follows: If it's a conspiracy, who is in on it? If you have an opinion from immunologist who works for Big Pharma, can you trust it? My neighbor replied as follows:
Workers for Big Pharma, who makes billions of dollars of vaccines and drugs, represent the interests of the companies they work for and are biased. They can NOT be sued for their vaccine harming or killing hundreds of thousands of people, which they in fact do. Putting your soul trust in big pharma workers would be like trusting a fox to watch a hen house, or Hamas to run security at Ben Gurion airport!
So I reached out to an immunologist who works for Big Pharma and asked him to write a guest post. Here it is, followed by my comments:
Big Pharma: An Insider's View
by Dr. Joel Kaye
For many years I have been advocating for vaccination, based on an insider’s perspective. I have a PhD in Immunology from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and a Fellowship (PostDoc) in Immunology from Harvard Medical School. I have spent 14 years in Teva Pharmaceuticals trying to develop new medicines for Multiple Sclerosis patients. I understand how the immune system works, how vaccines work and how they have eradicated fatal diseases across the world. To me, immunology is fascinating and exciting, and I cannot begin to fathom how anyone could not accept the basic facts.
And then I discovered that a relative posted a question on Facebook asking about attending a Shabbat meal in which her prematurely-born baby would be exposed to someone who has not been vaccinated. I called her and advised her not to go, and to my horror discovered that the unvaccinated person was the child of another family member, who has chosen not to vaccinate their second child.
How could there be an anti-vaxxer in the family? I spoke to this other family member and offered to help with any questions they had, to provide relevant information and stressed the importance of vaccination. One of the most surprising things they said to me was, "Why should we listen to what the Ministry of Health tells us to do?"
Wait, what? Where did this come from?
So, I did a little reading on the psychology behind anti-vaxxers, and found this very recent paper that breaks it down:
In order of magnitude, anti-vax attitudes were highest amongst those who were high in conspiratorial thinking. Of the five characteristics of Science Denialism, the top is Conspiracy: arguing that scientific consensus is a result of a complex and secretive conspiracy between Big Pharma and the Government. Pop culture tells us that the big pharmaceutical companies know all about the simple, natural cures for everything — cancer included — but are covering them up in order to continue milking sick people for profit. (See too http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/315761/Best-practice-guidance-respond-vocal-vaccine-deniers-public.pdf)
What people don’t realize is how regulated, stringent and difficult the Pharma Industry is. Developing vaccines is not that different from drug development. It is an expensive, long and structured process that sees many drugs fail before reaching the market. I personally worked on a drug for multiple sclerosis for twelve years, and it failed. It just didn’t work, despite all the effort we had put into it. And nobody at Teva thought for a second that we should cover it up and get it to market. Even if someone had tried, the FDA would never have bought into an argument of benefit to a patient—because there wasn’t any. For those that don't know, the vaccine testing and approval as well as drug development cycle takes years. There are many stages including:
• Exploratory/Discovery/Research stage
• Pre-clinical stage
• Clinical development
• Regulatory review and approval
• Quality control
Clinical development is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety. Many vaccines undergo Phase IV formal, ongoing studies after the vaccine is approved and licensed.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of employees in a company working on a single product at any given time. There are countless interactions with the Health Authorities all over the world. Stringent practices for reporting adverse events (side effects) and following the safety of patients. Therefore, there are thousands more hospital employees, contract researchers, government officials and so on who are also involved in a clinical study for a single product at any given time. It is ludicrous to think that all of these hard-working, honest people are part of a conspiracy.
I know of myself and my colleagues that there is one thing that drives us, gets us up in the mornings and makes us stay in this tough industry: Maybe, and it's only a maybe, we will bring a new medicine to benefit the health of a patient somewhere in the world. May I be rewarded with that accomplishment, many times over, and not have to hear about children falling sick and dying because people think that I am part of an evil conspiracy.
* * * End of guest post * * *
Now, I suppose it's possible that this Big Pharma immunologist is himself lying and part of the conspiracy - after all, he is on their payroll. But I don't think that he is. I trust Dr. Joel Kaye, and I know him well.
He's been married to my sister for twenty-one years.