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Upon first knowledge that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was debating whether to recommend an infant meningitis vaccine due to “cost-effectiveness,” The Heartland Institute has been actively following the debate and arguing for patients, in collaboration with their doctors, to be able make their own vaccination decisions.
To continue to spread that message, Heartland representatives, Senior Fellow Dr. Richard Dolinar, Rachel Rivest, Amanda Evans, and myself, attended the CDC’s “public meeting” in Chicago – the third of four meetings being held this summer.
These meetings, poorly publicized to the point that the CDC itself has no information about them on their website, have been described as a way for the CDC to consider public opinion. However, after attending yesterday’s meeting, it is clear that the CDC has other motivations.
Upon arrival at the meeting, Dr. Dolinar’s name was surprisingly not on the registration list. Not to assume it was intentional, but all other Heartland representatives who registered at the same time had no registration issues.
As we sat down at one of the designated tables for “participants,” it was clear that the chairs surrounding the room, specifically in the back, were designated for “stakeholders” and media. So even though pharmaceutical companies could be drastically affected by a decision to not recommend the vaccine, they were not allowed to participate or comment. Those who could comment were most often allowed to do so freely. After comments or questions from Heartland representatives, however, the event leader was quick to direct attention elsewhere.
The meeting, moderated by the Keystone Center, had several sessions, with opportunities for questions and comments after each session.
The first presentation beginning with the “purpose” of the meeting: “We are not here to debate the child immunization schedule, but what the CDC should consider when making recommendations,” he said, and, not surprisingly, FDA-approval was not an available answer. Rather, the only answer options were dependent upon severity of the illness and (the biggest factor) whether it affected a large number of people.
The CDC’s argument is that not a tremendous number of infants suffer with bacterial meningitis. Therefore, though the vaccine would save infant lives, it would not be worth the monetary price.
Therefore, the entire session had an “agenda,” as openly admitted by Glen Nowak, CDC Senior Advisor for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and that agenda was clearly to frame participants’ opinions to match the CDC’s desired outcome: a vote against recommendation. Behind the spin of each session was a clear intent to persuade participants to believe that the vaccine was too costly to be recommended. Each presentation involved information about the “very few” number of meningitis cases (even though 39% of cases occur in children under the age of 2) and cost.
For example, some questions asked were:
“Thinking about vaccine recommendations, how many infants and children would need to get a severe illness from the disease in a typical year in the U.S. to make it a good idea that all children be vaccinated?”
“If you had to pay for a vaccine that protected your child from a rare but serious disease, what would you be willing to pay out of pocket?”
“How much should cost or potential cost of the vaccine matter when it comes to recommending its use for all infants and children?”
See a theme?
Additionally, Dr. Amanda Cohn, the CDC Medical Epidemiologist, gave a presentation which its main objective was to convince participants that:
The vaccine would not save “that many” children,
That it may not be “cost-effective,” a term used often by all CDC representatives,
That the vaccine may clutter an already full vaccination schedule, and
That it would cause extra work for doctors whose responsibility “may not necessarily be to inform parents about a meningitis vaccine.”
Yet, despite the deceptive attempts of the CDC, the majority of participants voted that cost should not matter “at all” when recommending vaccine use, and 86% of participants voted for the CDC to recommend the vaccine.
The CDC will hold its last public meeting in Denver, CO on Monday July 25th.