As I wrote last week, the market for vaccines is expanding, and the newswires have stories about these products almost daily. Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, to name just two major players, are increasing investments in research and manufacturing capacity for these therapies. Kalorama Information predicts that sales of pediatric vaccines will grow even more quickly than sales for adult vaccines. Yet drugmakers have surely noticed that not all publicity about vaccines has been positive.
Just last week, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told Fox News that the vaccine for human papillomavirus “can have very dangerous side effects.” Bachmann, who hopes to be the Republican candidate for president next year, mentioned a mother who claimed that her daughter had suffered mental retardation because of the vaccine.
Bachmann has taken a lot of heat for her remarks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and public-health efforts have denounced them. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, offered to donate $10,000 to the charity of Bachmann’s choice if she “can produce a case in one week . . . verified by three medical experts that she and I pick of a woman who became ‘retarded’ (her words) due to the vaccine.”
Unfortunately, Bachmann is not the first to question vaccines’ safety. For years, a small but vocal group has been claiming that the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella causes autism. Early this year, the research paper that lent credence to this claim was revealed to rely on sloppy science and questionable methods. More recently, a panel assembled by the Institute of Medicine found no evidence that the vaccine causes autism.
Rumors that vaccines are harmful continue to circulate even in the absence of sound evidence. Comments such as Bachmann’s help foster this misperception. The group warning about vaccines’ putative dangers may be small, but it has gained media attention and could potentially influence patients’ decisions about healthcare. The pharmaceutical industry, and public officials such as FDA, would do well to publicly reaffirm that vaccines are safe. Drugmakers could describe the safety information garnered during clinical trials of their now-approved vaccines. And perhaps FDA could include a Q&A about vaccines on its website to dispel doubts. Communicating accurate information about vaccines will help the industry and patients alike.