Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Corruption by any other name

"When a study revealed that mercury in childhood vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids, the [American] government rushed to conceal the data, and to prevent parents from suing drug companies for their role in the epidemic."

Can this really be true? Can this really be happening in that bastion of zero defect democracy? The home of the brave and the land of the free...or is that the land of the free and the home of the brave?

According to an article in Salon.com a study by a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) scientist has shown that a mercury-based preservative, used in vaccines against childhood diseases, has been responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and other neurological disorders among children. The researcher, Tom Verstraeten cited numerous earlier studies indicating a link between the preservative, thimerosal, and speech delays, attention-deficit disorder, peractivity and autism. Since 1991, when the CDC and the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) had recommended that three additional vaccines containing thimerosal be given to infants, the estimated number of cases of autism increased from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.

Instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, officials and pharmaceutical executives spent two days following a conference on the study, discussing how to cover up the data. A major concern was the possibility of damaging lawsuits. According to transcripts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, many at the meeting were concerned about how the damaging revelations would affect the vaccine industry's bottom line.

The Salon article goes on to describe in detail how the CDC commissioned another study from a different research organisation to whitewash the evidence. It also attempted to get round the Freedom of Information Act by handing its database of vaccine records to a private company and declaring it off-limits to researchers.

The drug companies were further aided by Washington. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has received $873,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. He helped shield vaccine makers from liability in 4,200 lawsuits that had been filed by the parents of injured children. On five separate occasions, Frist tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents , and protect Eli Lilly, the developer of thimerosal, from subpoenas. In 2002, the day after Frist added a provision known as the "Eli Lilly Protection Act" into a homeland security bill, the company contributed $10,000 to his campaign and bought 5,000 copies of his book on bioterrorism. Congress repealed the measure in 2003, but earlier this year, Frist slipped another provision into an anti-terrorism bill that would deny compensation to children suffering from vaccine-related brain disorders.

In some African countries, the above might be construed as corruption - the use of money to buy political influence, the Shaik trial, Zumagate, oilgate. But I guess in America this sort of thing is legal, the only difference being that campaign contributions are on public record, something that is not required in South Africa. Idasa recently went to court in an attempt to force disclosure of campaign contributions but they lost the case. The ANC did however give Idasa an undertaking to disclose and be transparent on this in future, but as we have seen with oilgate, this has not been so. Incidently, the DA, big US style democracy supporters, also opposed the court application.

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