The "Independent" Voices Of Vaccine Safety

Sharyl Attkisson is investigative correspondent for CBS News.
For years, members of Congress have been investigating financial ties between pharmaceutical companies and the government, doctors and researchers, research hospitals, colleges and universities. Sen. Charles Grassley, who has most recently been digging into money links between drug companies and the American Psychiatric Association, puts it this way: "I have come to understand that money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of nonprofit organizations that purport to be independent in their viewpoints and actions."

In a letter to its members, the APA says it supports complete transparency and plans to provide Grassley with the information he's requested: "a complete accounting of APA revenues, except from advertising in our journals, from pharmaceutical companies, starting in 2003." The APA notes: "We are not alone; recent public focus on relationships between medicine and the pharmaceutical industry is a challenge for the whole field of medicine."

Indeed, the APA is not alone in being the subject of public focus and scrutiny for its relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. Tonight, on the CBS Evening News, we dig into the allegations of financial conflicts of interest among some widely-quoted "independent" voices in the debates over vaccine safety. We weren't as lucky as Grassley: The groups we approached refused to provide us with a full accounting of their financial relationships. Although two of the groups receive tax benefits for their non-profit status, they are not required to file such details with the IRS and would not provide them to us, either.

In the case of a prominent vaccine specialist who is routinely offered up as an "independent" voice to speak on vaccine safety, he, too, was unwilling to disclose to us how much remuneration he's received from the vaccine industry.

And the vaccine companies we asked? They said they would not, or could not give such information as: financial support they give to educational institutions, physicians and research projects; a list of outside physicians who are on the payroll as researchers, speakers, advisors or consultants; and an accounting of funding provided to non-profits, medical organizations and government entities such as IOM, NIH, CDC and FDA. With all of those refusals, you might be surprised to find we had enough information to put together a story for tonight's CBS Evening News. But you might be more surprised at what we did find. And we'll show you tonight.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.