Follow the money, continued
April 1st 2019, 21:48
The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus knew a thing or two; one thing he said was that "in war, truth is the first casualty." Usually truth is quickly replaced by propaganda, because winning the war is more important than the citizens knowing what's really happening.
We're seeing a miniseries of this being played out in medicine right now. The war is over the uptake of several drugs and vaccines, the sales of which have been hit by critics who have been pointing out the drugs' inadequacies and dangers.
The starting pistol was fired earlier this year by the World Health Organization, which categorized "vaccine hesitancy"—when parents question the safety of the vaccination about to be put into their child—as one of the world's top 10 health threats.
These parents are having doubts put in their heads by the 'anti-vaxxers' who use platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to spread their 'propaganda,' as the UK's Guardian newspaper recently put it.1 Not pulling its punches, a New York Times editorial weighed in with the view that vaccine naysayers were putting lives at risk.2
Just as 'anti-vaxxers' have legitimate concerns that have not been properly addressed, so too do the scientists and physicians who have argued that statins are unnecessary—because cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease—as well as dangerous.
These 'statin deniers' have been shouted down with the same strident rhetoric being used against the anti-vaxxers. They, too, are endangering lives with their false claims, says Dr Joseph Hill, editor-in-chief of the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. "There is a flood of bad information on the internet and social media that is hurting human beings.
"It's not just an annoyance, this actually puts people in harm's way," he writes in his journal's editorial. "Doctors say too many of their patients shun taking statins because of bad information they picked up—often from politicians, celebrities and others who lack medical expertise."3
Backing up his assertions were the findings of an 'independent' research paper that was jumped on by our sympathetic mainstream media outlets. Around 8,000 deaths a year could be avoided in the UK if only people over 75 would ignore the anti-statin propaganda and instead start popping the pills, according to researchers from the Cholesterol Treatment Triallists Collaboration (CTT).4
The CTT is closely linked to the Oxford Clinical Trials Service Unit (CTSU), which has received nearly $392 million (£300 million) in donations from the pharmaceutical industry. The CTT and CTSU share the same research team, and two prominent CTT researchers admit to more than 50 conflicts of interest with drug companies, many of which manufacture statins.
It's hard to criticize a CTT study, because the data on which the results are based is kept under wraps. A similar modus operandi can be found in vaccination studies.
At the time of writing, a UK agency still hasn't published the results of several studies that explored the safety of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines—and that's three years after the studies were finished. And in a review of the MMR vaccine, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 'forgot' to include a dataset that demonstrated that black American boys were four times more likely to develop autism after vaccination.5
These errors and omissions are doing little to assuage the concerns of patients and parents. That's why independent voices of reason, such as the Vaccine Confidence Project, have been set up. But the project isn't independent, and it's not weighing up the evidence, good and bad, impartially.
It's created on the premise that vaccines are always good, always safe, and the anti-vaxxers are conspiracy-theory hysterics. Helping it in its endeavors are benefactors such as GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures more than 40 vaccines that generate $6.8 billion (£5.2 billion) in sales every year.
For all of you who just want to get to the truth in this pharmaceutical turf war, ask yourself this one question: who has the most to gain by winning the argument? Is it the anti-vaxxers and statin critics, or is it the drug companies that stand to lose billions of dollars in sales?
By following the money, you can still get to the truth, even in times of war.