As Italy’s parliament votes in draconian new laws to expand and enforce vaccine mandates over its children it may be helpful to look at some of the origins of the deal which led to the takeover over the Novartis vaccine division by GSK (Glaxo SmithKline). The takeover move began in April 2014 shortly after the United Kingdom’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) made a controversial decision to recommend Novartis’s Bexsero Meningitis B vaccine for infant use – one of the items on Italy’s compulsory schedule. The decision was presided over by the JCVI’s recently appointed chairman, Andrew Pollard, who also happened to be the product’s lead developer . Less than a year earlier the JCVI had been put under pressure to recommend Bexsero by the UK’s Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt (see picture), but failed to agree. The decision was taken at the second meeting presided over by Prof Pollard, without anybody recusing themselves and without a vote being taken. This greatly enhanced the commercial prospect of the vaccine which hitherto had been having difficulty establishing itself in the market.
As Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport during the early years of the Cameron coalition government Hunt was shown to have colluded with the interests of the Murdoch media empire and made inappropriate communications with James Murdoch, despite which he was promoted to the role of Secretary of State for Health in 2012 and is the only British cabinet minister to remain in position since that time (despite great unpopularity and mistrust). The Murdoch news empire has notably been at root of relentless fraudulent claims against Andrew Wakefield who questioned the safety of MMR vaccine in 1998 and subsequently, while in February 2009 James Murdoch was appointed to the board of GSK with a brief to help defend the group’s reputation. Within days a further string of attacks on Wakefield followed. Murdoch retired from the board of GSK in January 2012 with his own name surrounded in controversy. GSK or its precursor SKB, was the manufacturer of an MMR type vaccine which had to be withdrawn in Canada in 1987/8 and the United Kingdom in 1992, and was subject of a legal suit in which Wakefield was a witness.
However the appointment of Prof Pollard came about it is apparent that it furthered the policy request of the Health Secretary Hunt (and the new Men B vaccine was also used as political window dressing in the in 2015 British General Election). While the Secretariat of the JCVI has continued to defend the appointment of Prof Pollard, hiding behind a maze of complex rules, it is hard to see on the basis of any normal public standards a scientist can sit in judgment on the future of a product of which he was lead developer, any more than an architect could head a planning committee considering his own design. Blatantly, Pollard later addressed a GSK sponsored meeting in September 2015 at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health under the title:
Evening of Evidence
Vaccination Science to Policy
Introduction of new vaccines to the UK vaccine schedule with limited evidence of efficacy [sic]: Meningococcal group B and maternal pertussis vaccination
Another departure in standards took place when in February 2016 the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation enjoyed the hospitality of Prof Pollard’s institutions in Oxford. As well as having limited efficacy the Bexsero vaccine which is now being mandated and made compulsory for infants in Italy was recorded as having serious side effects in above 1 in 50 cases in a group of 10 to 25 year-olds, according to the FDA package insert.