Recently, two books have been published by Dr. Paul Offit, the leading proponent of vaccines in the US and one of the main experts featured in The Greater Good. The two books are called Do you Believe in Magic and Killing Us Softly. They laughably denounce supplements and alternative medicine like chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy as not only ineffective but even deadly. To be clear, when creating The Greater Good, we did not disclose the following information as we wanted to let Dr. Offit’s perspective stand on its own and not influence the audience with information about his potential conflicts of interest.
Dr. Offit is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He is also a consultant to Merck and the developer of Rotateq, a rotavirus vaccine which he developed with Merck. He has served on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. He is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and sits on the advisory boards of Every Child By Two, PKIDS, the Immunization Action Coalition – all groups committed to defending the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Curiously, only the Immunization Action Coalition reveals its funding – it comes mostly from the pharmaceutical industry and CDC.
Dr. Offit is clearly a very busy guy but somehow, despite his work commitments, he has managed to refashion himself as an expert on autism with the publication of two books on the subject and now as an expert on supplements and alternative medicine with the publication of two new books as well as finding time to conduct numerous interviews in print, radio and online (that is the kind of media coverage only big money can buy). He must be exhausted.
Dr. Offit is a real hitter in the medical industry so people should respect his opinion as an independent voice on all these matters, right? One might want to consider the following before deciding. According to a 2008 report by CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson, “Offit holds a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children’s Hospital, funded by Merck.” Hmmm. So his position at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is funded by one of the leading vaccine manufacturers in the world. He also developed Rotateq, a rotavirus vaccine, together with Merck and according to Attkisson, “future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit’s share of vaccine profits? Unknown.”
But surely he is honest and discloses all his financial ties priding himself on transparency? Apparently not. According to a 2011 report in the Orange Country Register, Offit has no evidence to support his claim that Attkisson lied and that she sent him a nasty email. It sounds like perhaps he was the one doing the lying. And the OC Register goes on to state the following after their investigation: “the network requested (but Offit did not disclose) the entire profile of his professional financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies including: The amount of compensation he’d received from which companies in speaking fees; and pharmaceutical consulting relationships and fees.”
So why rehash all of Dr. Offit’s conflicts of interest? Merely to remind folks that being a doctor does not make one immune to the lure of financial reward, nor does it make one an expert on everything that doctor chooses. So when hearing about Dr. Offit’s farcical denunciation of supplements and alternative medicine as deadly, one might want to consider his financial ties as well as some other information.
Pharmaceutical drugs are the 4th largest killer in America after heart disease and cancer – killing an estimated 106,000 people each year even when properly prescribed, properly administered, and yes, FDA approved. (See Mercola and JAMA.) When one considers complications, errors, etc., fatalities from conventional medicine each year number in the hundreds of thousands to millions depending on data and assumptions – outstripping both heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the US (See Death By Medicine 1 and Death By Medicine 2. To suggest alternative medicine is dangerous and conventional medicine is not (ever hear of Vioxx, Avandia, thalidomide???) requires a degree of revisionist history bordering on the pathological.
While there are indeed reports of death after supplements and natural medicine, they are extremely rare. Indeed it is all but impossible to find data on them. In the absence of reliable data, perhaps the cost of insuring a variety of types of medicine will yield some insight on the relative dangers. Having spoken with several homeopaths, they report it costs between $200 and $1000 per year for insurance. According to a chiropractor I know, chiropractors pay about $2000-$3000 per year for insurance. Compare this to the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to insure a conventional doctor each year and one gets a sense of which practices are viewed as the most dangerous by the insurance industry.
Lastly, Dr. Offit says that none of these natural healing modalities work beyond the placebo effect. If that is the case, then why is there so much research on the safety and efficacy of acupuncture that it is now provided in conventional medical practices and hospitals across the US and even provided on the national health services in other countries? Why are acupuncture and chiropractic care covered on many health insurance policies if they are either unsafe or ineffective? And why are there dozens of studies published in peer reviewed journals attesting to the safety and efficacy of homeopathy as posted on the National Center for Homeopathy’s website?
The flu pandemic of 1918 is a great opportunity for a quick history lesson. But first, let’s go back even further, to 1844 and the founding of the very first medical organization in the US, the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH). The AIH was founded by physicians who were also homeopaths to standardize the teaching and practice of homeopathy. Then in 1847, conventional doctors answered with their own organization, the American Medical Association (AMA). According to Dr. Domenick J. Masiello in his History of Homeopathy, “The A.M.A. charter contained specific language against movements such as homeopathy and its members were forbidden to consult with homeopathic physicians.”1
Why would the AMA be so threatened by homeopathy if it did not work? Jane Tara Cicchetti, a homeopath, may have the answer. She writes: “In a 1903 meeting of the AMA one respected allopathic physician admitted that they never fought homeopaths because of their principles, they fought them because they moved in and got the business.”2 So the AMA did not seek to destroy homeopathy because of lack of safety or effectiveness, it was about money. Some things never change!
Now back to the flu pandemic. Few folks know that in the early 1900’s there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, 100 homeopathic hospitals and 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies in the US.3 4 Hence when the flu pandemic hit, there was ample opportunity to assess the relative risk and success of what we today call conventional care versus homeopathic care. Normally when we read about the 1918 flu pandemic, we hear the horrors of how that flu killed over half a million Americans but one never hears how the fatality rate of homeopathic hospitals and physicians was but a fraction of that of the conventional hospitals. According to many accounts, the homeopathic hospitals lost 1%-2% of patients whereas conventional hospitals lost 20%, 25% or over 30% of patients. So much for homeopathy being nothing more than a placebo effect. (You can read physician accounts here.)
So what are Dr. Offit’s two books really about? Money, the proverbial wheel greaser. Unfortunately for Dr. Offit and those behind him, all the money in the world can’t make the facts go away – or change history.
Clearly, some folks are feeling threatened that millions of people in the US and around the world are questioning the safety and efficacy of conventional medicine and pharmaceutical products and are opting for truly safe and effective natural solutions to their health concerns, so it was time for a hit piece or two. Educated consumers can connect the dots and see what is going on here. At some point, Dr. Offit may be the architect of his own undoing…perhaps that time is not far away now.