Government and Pharma: A Case in Point

Earlier this month, the University of Pittsburgh held “A Scientific Symposium Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Development of the Polio Vaccine.” One of the speakers at this conference was Dr. Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Nabel has a pretty nice gig. As director of a program, he receives a sizable salary, courtesy of taxpayers. His duties involve developing vaccines that are then patented under his name. Through his position, he can then assist in promoting these vaccines so that they are federally mandated.

The result, of course, is an increase in people using his vaccines – and an increase in his personal profits.

There seems something ethically problematic in all of this – a conflict of interest, at the very least. Isn’t it in his personal interest to tout the safety of the vaccines he develops, for instance? And he is hardly the only person in such a position. Examples like these highlight the need for greater transparency in government – particularly where the fields of government and medicine merge. Until there is greater separation between the government and the pharmaceutical industry, it is hard to believe that the government will indeed demand the highest of safety standards from vaccine manufacturers, and there will be no incentive for government to safeguard parents’ right to choose.

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