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Conflicts abound for advisers on vaccines

The New York Times recently reported about a new report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a poor job of screening medical experts for financial conflicts when it hired them to advise the agency on vaccine safety. The report stated that most of the experts who served on advisory panels in 2007 to evaluate vaccines for flu and cervical cancer had potential conflicts of interest that were never resolved. The issue was so problematic that some advisers were legally prohibited from considering the vaccine issues, but did so anyway! As many unsafe medicines have been pulled from the market in recent years, worries have intensified that experts may be recommending medical products in part because manufacturers are paying them.

The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that the CDC failed nearly every time to ensure that the experts adequately filled out forms confirming that they were not being paid by companies with an interest in their decisions. The agency’s new director said that the CDC has since strengthened the financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest process by instituting improved business processes and realigning responsibilities and oversight.

Congress tightened rules on outside consulting after similar conflicts of interest were found among advisers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, prior to the issuing of this timely report, little attention was paid to the potential conflicts of interests at the CDC. This is despite the fact that the CDC has significant influence over what vaccines are sole in the United States in addition to what tests are used to detect cancer and what precautions are taken to protect coal miners.

Click here to read about the CDC conflicts report.