Urgent Questions: Men B Vaccine and the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation
Urgent Questions About Men B Vaccine and the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: Open Letter to Andrew Earnshaw, Secretary to the Committee
As a Downing Street petition to the British government about the general availability of the recently marketed Meningitis B vaccine Bexsero becomes the most signed in history Age of Autism’s UK editor poses some serious and awkward questions to the committee that recommended the vaccine for infant use.
Dear Mr Earnshaw,
I refer to your letter  on behalf the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation Secretariat to Michael McMahon, convener of the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament, of 7 January 2016 regarding petition PE1584 presented by Mr Angus Files with myself in support. While noting your defence of the position of Prof Pollard as chair of the JCVI I am surprised that there is no reference to his role as the developer of Bexsero vaccine. Contemporaneous with his appointment to the JCVI chairmanship a document submitted by Oxford University to the Higher Education Funding Committees’ survey REF2014 describes the position thus:
Oxford University research has also led to the planned use of vaccines against serogroup B meningococcal disease, which have been licensed and recommended for the prevention of disease in high-risk individuals, and broader use is under consideration.
It seems likely that at the time of this submission Prof Pollard was already chair of the committee considering this matter, but no mention is made of this. The submission continues:
Meningococcal disease is the leading infectious cause of death in children in the UK, and its prevention is a major objective of the Oxford Vaccine Group, directed by Professor Andrew Pollard. During the period from 2001-2013 more than 10,000 volunteers were enrolled in clinical studies in Oxford, mainly children, and the research provided new insight into the design, development and evaluation of novel vaccines for meningitis and specifically meningococcal disease..
Mention is also made of patents:
The design and development of new vaccines for serogroup B meningococcus by Oxford University have led to a number of patents on the candidate vaccines (based on various surface proteins including Opa, PorA and FetA 17), which provide a licensing position for the University as these vaccines progress through early phase clinical trials.
Without getting into the technical issue of whether conflicts are “personal”, “pecuniary” or “special” I note that the JCVI code of conduct states (2013 Section 42(2) :
If a member has in the last 12 months received, or plans to receive a financial payment or other benefit from a business or representative body relating to vaccines or any other product or service that could be under consideration by JCVI...including... holding a directorship or other paid position...the member must declare this interest... If this interest is specific to an agenda item and the payment or other benefit is connected specifically with the product under consideration, the member will be required to absent him/herself from the discussion and any subsequent vote.
But according to JCVI minutes of February 2014  Prof Pollard led the discussion on Bexsero – numerous references are made to the “the chair” in the record. This could of course be a formal reference rather than a personal reference, but no record is provided of Prof Pollard absenting himself, nor have you suggested that he did in your letter. This also conflicts with the long established Nolan Standards in Public Life. The JCVI needs to explain how this conflict was allowed to arise, and without being disclosed.
I also note that Prof Pollard and his deputy Dr Riordan took part in an industry sponsored presentation in September las year discussing the JCVI’s business :
Evening of Evidence/Vaccination Science to Policy: Introduction of new vaccines to the UK vaccine schedule with limited evidence of efficacy: Meningococcal Group B and maternal pertussis vaccination
The event was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, which was by that time commercial beneficiary for both products mentioned. Prof Pollard’s paper was entitled:
JCVI decision-making process informing the recommendation for the introduction of Bexsero to the UK vaccination schedule
Dr Riordan’s paper was entitled:
Evidence considered by the JCVI to recommend antenatal pertussis vaccination in the UK
It is troubling that that business of the committee could be shared in this way, nor was this hospitality disclosed in the minutes of the following JCVI meeting.
Another disclosure in recent publications by Prof Pollard, which is not replicated in any JCVI minutes further raises eye-brows [6, 7]:
The University of Oxford receives unrestricted educational grants for courses and conferences organised by AJP from vaccine manufacturers
The fact that such a relationship has to be disclosed for an academic publication but is thought not to be relevant to his position as chair of the JCVI is disturbing, particularly as it demonstrates the Prof Pollard has a continuing professional interest in cultivating vaccine manufacturers which is not dependant on him being paid by them. Again, the JCVI needs to explain why such matters are not disclosed in the minutes of meetings, and how they can be allowed to arise in first place.
Recent event have suggested how easy it is to manipulate public opinion over vaccine products, however inadvertently. The wider public does not understand the limitations of Bexsero in protecting against Meningitis B (indeed its efficacy is to date entirely unproven [5, 8, 9]), nor that it has serious side effects in up to 1 in 50 cases in persons aged between 10 and 25 . So far the known risks apparently well outweigh the known benefits. It is not necessarily a magic panacea for a disease which occasionally attacks in terrifying ways, but relatively rarely.
No doubt part of the problem is the catastrophic contemporary failure to differentiate between public and private sectors. The JCVI now comes under the aegis of Public Health England which often works with the pharmaceutical industry and with Oxford Vaccine Group  (which also works with the pharmaceutical industry) and both are no doubt agencies of National Health Service. But the result is that JCVI is not fit to represent the public interest.
 REF2014: EFFECTIVE DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT AND EVALUATION OF MENINGITIS VACCINES http://impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies2/refservice.svc/GetCaseStudyPDF/15529
 Consult by Univadis, Bexsero section 5.1 https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/medicine/28407
John Stone, UK Editor, Age of Autism