Pharmaceutical manufacturers create distrust of vaccinations

By Ed Weisbart, M.D.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Letters, Feb. 7, 2015

Children should get vaccinated. The evidence is overwhelming that this is a safe and effective vital strategy for our nation’s health.

Why is there such distrust of vaccinations today?

The answer is simple: Pharmaceutical manufacturers have repeatedly proven themselves as undeserving of our trust.

In 2010, AstraZeneca was fined $520 million for an array of illegal promotions of antipsychotics for children, elderly, veterans and prisoners. That fine sounds large, but it amounted to only 2.4 percent of the $21.6 billion that they made on Seroquel sales the preceding 12 years.

They’re not alone. Glaxo was fined $3 billion for the illegal promotion of two antidepressants and for hiding safety problems with a diabetes drug. Johnson and Johnson was fined $2.2 billion for the illegal marketing of Risperdal. Again: just tiny fractions of their total sales.

Their strategy seems to be “pay the ticket, but keep on speeding.”

We should be able to rely on the Food and Drug Administration to protect us, but the FDA’s advisory boards are now stacked with people who have a financial interest in the very drugs being regulated. Moreover, the FDA’s funding is dependent on the pharmaceutical companies.

Until we achieve a nonprofit national health program where medications are provided as a public good and not sold as commodities for the highest profit, trust in medicine will continue to erode.

Vaccinate your children. Urge financial and clinical independence for the FDA. And tell your lawmakers you want patient-oriented, not profit-oriented, health care. That will help bring trust back.

Dr. Ed Weisbart is chairman, Missouri chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. He resides in Olivette.

Congress shares the blame for high drug prices

By Suzanne Hagan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Letters, Feb. 11, 2015

Dr. Ed Weisbart is correct with the letter "Pharmaceutical manufacturers create distrust of vaccinations" (Feb. 7). Pharmaceutical manufacturers have many sins for which they must atone when it comes to the fleecing of American consumers.

But our spineless Congress has to shoulder a share of the blame. Sen. John McCain is the co-sponsor of a bill that enables a few Americans who live in a state bordering Canada to go to our northern neighbor to legally purchase their American-made drugs at a big discount. But Americans as a whole do not share in this benefit. That’s because the powerful lobbyists for Big Pharma made sure that Congress legislated that Americans pay full retail price for drugs we purchase.

Big Pharma tries to justify this position by citing the high cost of research and development for new drugs. But these companies receive tax breaks and other inducements that help defray costs, all subsidized by the American taxpayer. And why should we Americans subsidize the rest of the world’s drug costs? There should be global support of pharmaceutical R&D. Let’s face it: If these companies weren’t making huge profits, they couldn’t afford their army of well-funded lobbyists.

We need journalists to expose these outrages before we have any hope of correcting them. And as Dr. Weisbart pointed out, if we had a national single-payer health plan like Canada’s, we wouldn’t be in this position.

Suzanne Hagan resides in Ballwin, Mo.