Measles, Merck and Fraud

The measles outbreak in the United States has fueled fear within the public and among legislators throughout the country intent on eliminating or severely restricting the right to informed consent by people who have questions about the efficacy, safety and scheduling of certain vaccines. Get a grip. It’s measles, not Ebola.

Referring to the outbreak, here’s what director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Anne Schuchat had to say last month: “This is not a problem of the measles vaccine not working. It’s a problem of the measles vaccine not being used.” She also said, “There’s no harm in getting another MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.”

It’s all very simple. The reason measles is spreading is because everyone just hasn’t gotten vaccinated. So go out and get your MMR. Hey, there’s no harm in it.

Well, that would make sense if, in fact, the vaccine was as effective as the CDC claims it is. You see, it’s not so clear. The CDC states that the MMR vaccine is 95% effective. But that’s the figure given to the institute by the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck & Co. The CDC is taking Merck’s word for it. Which would be fine… to a point. Except that on August 27, 2010, two scientists at Merck filed a False Claims Act complaint against their company for falsifying its mumps vaccine test data.

The case was explained well in an article by Lawrence Solomon in The Huffington Post titled, “Merck Has Some Explaining To Do Over Its MMR Vaccine Claims.”

Virologists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski said that Merck “used improper testing techniques and falsified test data to fabricate a vaccine efficacy of 95 percent or higher.” They said they “witnessed firsthand the improper testing and data falsification in which Merck engaged to artificially inflate the vaccine’s efficacy findings,” and that “they were pressured by their Merck superiors and senior Merck management to participate in the fraud and subsequent cover-up.”

According to the claim by Krahling and Wlochowski, Merck defrauded the US government of hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a decade. But the biggest losers have been children in the US. The claim states: “But the ultimate victims here are the millions of children who every year are being injected with the mumps vaccine that is not providing them with an adequate level of protection.”

Note that during the past 10 years, there have been numerous outbreaks of mumps in the US in which the vast majority of those infected had been fully vaccinated. One of the more recent cases involved an outbreak in central Ohio last year which infected 225 people – more than half of them students at Ohio State University (OSU). According to Julie Mangino, director of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology for the OSU Health System, 97% of OSU students who contracted the mumps had received the MMR vaccine.

Given this case, a reasonable person might wonder why the CDC doesn’t seem to be more publicly outraged. Why wouldn’t the CDC seriously doubt anything Merck higher-ups tell it about its vaccines, notably MMR? If indeed Merck falsified the tests for the mumps portion of the vaccine, then who’s to say they didn’t do it for the measles and rubella portions as well?

Why not assume that the current measles outbreak is simply because the MMR vaccine stinks? Yeah, there may be no harm in getting another MMR vaccine. Then again, there may be absolutely no benefit to it either.