Friday, December 31, 2010

Research links rise in Falluja birth defects and cancers to US assault/ The Guardian

• Defects in newborns 11 times higher than normal
• 'War contaminants' from 2004 attack could be cause 

By Martin Chulov at the Guardian
US marines prepare for Fallujah offensive
White phosphorous smoke screens are fired by the US army as part of an early morning patrol in November 2004 on the outskirts of Falluja, Iraq, in preparation for an offensive against insurgents. Photograph: Scott Nelson/Getty Images

A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.
The research, which will be published next week, confirms earlier estimates revealed by the Guardian of a major, unexplained rise in cancers and chronic neural-tube, cardiac and skeletal defects in newborns. The authors found that malformations are close to 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to unprecedented levels in the first half of this year – a period that had not been surveyed in earlier reports.
The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. They follow two alarming earlier studies, one of which found a distortion in the sex ratio of newborns since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – a 15% drop in births of boys...

The report identifies metals as potential contaminating agents afflicting the city – especially among pregnant mothers. "Metals are involved in regulating genome stability," it says. "As environmental effectors, metals are potentially good candidates to cause birth defects...

The report acknowledges that other battlefield residues may also be responsible for the defects. "Many known war contaminants have the potential to interfere with normal embryonic and foetal development," the report says. "The devastating effect of dioxins on the reproductive health of the Vietnamese people is well-known..."

Birth-defect rates in Falluja have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010, the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Falluja general hospital, 15% of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural tune defect – which affects the brain and lower limbs – cardiac, or skeletal abnormalities, or cancers.
No other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Falluja sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns than world averages, the research has shown...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Iraq Wants the U.S. Out/ WSJ

From an exclusive interview with the WSJ:
BAGHDAD—Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sat down for an exclusive conversation with The Wall Street Journal's Sam Dagher. Here are some excerpts.

Mr. Maliki spoke with The Wall Street Journal in a two-hour interview, his first since Iraq ended nine months of stalemate and seated a new government after an inconclusive election, allowing Mr. Maliki to begin a second term as premier.
A majority of Iraqis—and some Iraqi and U.S. officials—have assumed the U.S. troop presence would eventually be extended, especially after the long government limbo. But Mr. Maliki was eager to draw a line in his most definitive remarks on the subject. "The last American soldier will leave Iraq" as agreed, he said, speaking at his office in a leafy section of Baghdad's protected Green Zone. "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kleptocracy Nation: Retired Generals and Admirals working for defense contractors/ Boston Globe

From Bryan Bender at the Globe:
Former officers and specialists say the defense industry’s political might is getting a new boost from an accelerating flow of retired generals and admirals.
The Department of Defense... runs an exclusive job service to teach soon-to-retire generals how to land jobs in the defense industry. And military firms routinely recruit elite officers while they are still in uniform.
In rare cases, generals have gone so far as to establish their own consulting firms before retirement...
The defense industry pays large sums to the retired flag officers it hires. For the rapidly growing corps of consultants, fees reach thousands of dollars a day; monthly retainers can run between $20,000 and $50,000 for individual clients. The busiest and most influential retired generals are earning millions of dollars a year, according to industry sources...
Intense competition for contracts is helping drive the industry’s insatiable desire for influential and well-connected insiders.
So is the burgeoning business of outsourcing war...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kleptocracy Nation: Lawmakers seek cash during key votes/ WaPo

From Carol D. Leonnig and T.W. Farnam at the Washington Post:
Numerous times this year, members of Congress have held fundraisers and collected big checks while they are taking critical steps to write new laws, despite warnings that such actions could create ethics problems. The campaign donations often came from contributors with major stakes riding on the lawmakers' actions.
For three weeks in June, for instance, the members of a joint House and Senate committee worked to draft final rules for regulating the financial industry in the wake of its 2008 meltdown. During that time, the 35 members of the drafting committee collected $440,000 in donations from that same industry, which was then lobbying heavily for looser rules.
... ethics watchdogs complain that, in a race for money to help them win reelection, lawmakers routinely ignore congressional ethics rules that urge them to avoid fundraising around the same time that they are making key lawmaking decisions...
In September, the Senate voted on what it considered one of the year's most important pieces of legislation, the Small Business Job Creation Act. The bill, which later became law, created a $30 billion loan fund for community banks and gave them incentives to lend the money to small businesses. Hundreds of lobbyists were registered to lobby on this legislation, in part because it meant more business for banks.

Senators collected $469,000 from the financial industry the day before, the day of and the day after that key Sept. 16 vote, a Post review of donations shows. The biggest recipient was Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who shepherded the legislation and faced a tight reelection race...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Making the unacceptable "legal" (in this case, indefinite detention without trial) via Executive Order (but it's still unconstitutional)/ HuffPo

Bill Quigley (Loyola University Law Professor) and Vince Warren (both associated with the Center for Constitutional Rights) discuss Obama's newest Executive Order:  one designed to uproot the 5th Amendment's requirement for due process and the 6th Amendment's rights of the accused, including the right to a speedy trial.  Here is their report on Huffington Post:
The right to liberty is one of the foundation rights of a free people. The idea that any US President can bypass Congress and bypass the courts by issuing an executive order setting up a new legal system for indefinite detention of people should rightfully scare the hell out of the American people.
Advisors in the Obama administration have floated the idea of creating a special new legal system to indefinitely detain people by executive order. Why? To do something with the people wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo. Why not follow the law and try them? The government knows it will not be able to win prosecutions against them because they were tortured by the US.
Guantanamo is coming up on its ninth anniversary -- a horrifying stain on the character of the US commitment to justice. President Obama knows well that Guantanamo is the most powerful recruitment tool for those challenging the US. Unfortunately, this proposal for indefinite detention will prolong the corrosive effects of the illegal and immoral detentions at Guantanamo rightly condemned world-wide.
The practical, logical, constitutional and human rights problems with the proposal are uncountable.
Our system provides a simple answer developed over hundreds of years -- try them or release them. Any other stop gap measure like the one proposed merely pushes the problem back down the road and back into the courts again. While it may appear to be a popular political response, the public will soon enough see this for what it is -- an unconstitutional usurping of power by the executive branch and a clear and present danger to all Americans...
Recall that dozens of the very same people who would now be subject to indefinite detention have already been cleared for release by the government. How can indefinite detention of people we already cleared to go home possibly be legal?

... "Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action." The Supreme Court has "always been careful not to "minimize the importance and fundamental nature of the individual's right to liberty." Foucha v Louisiana, 504 US 71 (1992).

The liberty of all persons is protected by the criminal process guarantees, among other rights: the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; probable cause for arrest; right to counsel, right to indictment by grand jury; right to trial by an impartial jury; the right to a speedy public trial; the presumption of innocence; the right that government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every fact necessary to make out the charged offense; a privilege against self-incrimination; the right to confront and cross examine witnesses; the right to present witnesses and use compulsory process; the duty on the government to disclose exculpatory evidence...
Or at least it seemed to be like that in the USA, once upon a time...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monitoring America/ Washington Post

The Washington Post team of Dana Priest and William Arkin have again pushed the envelope on what the mainstream media report on US government surveillance of citizens.  I expect that, as happened congruent to Priest and Arkin's stories on "Top Secret America" published last July, the Post will build a site with a linked set of materials online over the next several days.  Scroll down to the bottom of page 1 to see some of this material.
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.
The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States...

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.

The Post findings paint a picture of a country at a crossroads, where long-standing privacy principles are under challenge by these new efforts to keep the nation safe.
The public face of this pivotal effort is Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, which years ago built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations outside of New York to try to stop illegal immigration and drug importation...

* In Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Facial Recognition Unit, using a type of equipment prevalent in war zones, records 9,000 biometric digital mug shots a month.
* U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies General Atomics' Predator drones along the Mexican and Canadian borders - the same kind of aircraft, equipped with real-time, full-motion video cameras, that has been used in wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan to track the enemy.
The special operations units deployed overseas to kill the al-Qaeda leadership drove technological advances that are now expanding in use across the United States. On the front lines, those advances allowed the rapid fusing of biometric identification, captured computer records and cellphone numbers so troops could launch the next surprise raid.
Here at home, it's the DHS that is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists...

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor...
Private enterprise saw what the government was up to and decided they too could get away with collecting data on citizens--for profit.  And their data collection may extend to identifying their friends.  Check out the WSJ article, "Your Apps Are Watching You" for info like the following:

Few devices know more personal details about people than the smartphones in their pockets: phone numbers, current location, often the owner's real name—even a unique ID number that can never be changed or turned off.
These phones don't keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.
An examination of 101 popular smartphone "apps"—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders...
Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking. With few exceptions, app users can't "opt out" of phone tracking, as is possible, in limited form, on regular computers. On computers it is also possible to block or delete "cookies," which are tiny tracking files. These techniques generally don't work on cellphone apps...
Apple has signaled that it has ideas for targeting people more closely...  How would Apple learn who a cellphone user's friends are, and what kinds of media they prefer? The patent says Apple could tap "known connections on one or more social-networking websites" or "publicly available information or private databases describing purchasing decisions, brand preferences," and other data...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

News? No. Vaccines with adjuvants induce stronger immune responses, but SAFETY is the issue/ Reuters

Reuters makes big news of a study showing that Glaxo's swine flu vaccine (which contains ASO3 adjuvant) induced a stronger immune response than an unadjuvanted Baxter vaccine.

This is nothing to crow about.  Everyone agrees that adjuvants boost the immune response; the question is how much increased autoimmune illness or other adverse events occur as a result of the adjuvant boost.  Norman Baylor, director of FDA's Office of Vaccine Research and Review, told Science magazine that antigen-sparing strategies [using a cheaper adjuvant to reduce the amount of antigen in vaccine--Nass] benefit populations, not individuals. "You have to think about those trade-offs," Baylor said.

Another issue is whether the "stronger immune response" actually prevents flu in more people.  Data from many studies of flu vaccines show that the vaccines are up to 75% effective at preventing flu, when the vaccine strains match the common circulating flu strain(s).  So far, there is no evidence that adjuvanted vaccines do better than 75%.

Furthermore, flu vaccines do not lead to reduced hospitalizations or complications from influenza (which is what causes flu-related deaths) and there is no evidence adjuvanted vaccines do either.  So the higher levels of antibodies achieved with adjuvanted vaccines may not produce any clinical beneft whatsoever.

Remember, every medical intervention is associated with cost and with risks and benefits. The extent of the benefit must exceed the risk.  That has not been shown for ASO3 or other novel adjuvants.  Reuters can cheerlead all it wants to, but these adjuvants are not ready for prime time.  Until we have a much better idea of the adverse event profile of last year's adjuvanted swine flu vaccines (used in most countries in 2009 but not in the US due to safety concerns) it is premature to use these products in mass vaccination programs.  [A joint FDA-NIH conference on how to study the safety of adjuvants was held in December 2008 and can be accessed here.]

Where are the data from the US and the rest of Europe and Australia on narcolepsy incidence following swine flu vaccinations?  Why have Sweden and Finland seen a steep rise in cases?  What other neurologic disorders, if any, have occurred at increased incidence?  These are only some of the questions that must be answered prior to adopting novel adjuvants for general use.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Narcolepsy diagnosed in 41 children vaccinated for H1N1 last year/ Helsingin Sanomat

Surge seen only in Sweden and Finland (Helsingen Sanomet)

Narcolepsy diagnosed in 41 children vaccinated for H1N1 last year
Forty one children and young people in Finland who were vaccinated for the H1N1, or swine flu virus last winter have been diagnosed with narcolepsy. In addition, there have been a few cases of the disease in which there was no record of a swine flu vaccination.
      Sweden and Finland are the only two countries to report a surge in narcolepsy the same vaccine was used in Canada, where there were only a few cases of the disease.

Narcolepsy has been on the increase in Finland in the past ten years, but not among such young patients. The symptoms of the young victims have been more severe than usual.
      “Kataplexy, the sudden loss of muscle tone in connection with a strong emotional state, has not been this common before”, says child neurologist Outi Saarenpää-Heikkilä of the Tampere University Hospital.
      “The symptoms are complicated and they are more severe than before. We have to learn how to treat it, because the medicines have not been intended for children, and they should not be used too easily. Older patients suffer most from personality changes - irritability and fits of rage. Going to school becomes impossible for some, and social life becomes more narrow.”
      Although the increase in cases of narcolepsy coincides with the vaccines, there is still some question as to whether or not it was actually the cause.
      The question was analysed on Monday when families affected by the disease and public health officials met at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The families had little doubt about the connection...

WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if?/ LA Times

Coleen Rowley, retired special agent and legal counsel for the Minneapolis field office of the FBI, and Bogdan Dzakovic, former special agent for the FAA's security division, wrote this interesting piece:  
Frustrated investigators might have chosen to leak information that their superiors bottled up, perhaps averting the terrorism attacks.
If WikiLeaks had been around in 2001, could the events of 9/11 have been prevented? The idea is worth considering.The organization has drawn both high praise and searing criticism for its mission of publishing leaked documents without revealing their source, but we suspect the world hasn't yet fully seen its potential. Let us explain.
There were a lot of us in the run-up to Sept. 11 who had seen warning signs that something devastating might be in the planning stages. But we worked for ossified bureaucracies incapable of acting quickly and decisively. Lately, the two of us have been wondering how things might have been different if there had been a quick, confidential way to get information out.
One of us, Coleen Rowley, was a special agent/legal counsel at the FBI's Minneapolis division and worked closely with those who arrested would-be terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui on an immigration violation less than a month before the World Trade Center was destroyed.
Following up on a tip from flight school instructors who had become suspicious of the French Moroccan who claimed to want to fly a jet as an "ego boost," Special Agent Harry Samit and an INS colleague had detained Moussaoui. A foreign intelligence service promptly reported that he had connections with a foreign terrorist group, but FBI officials in Washington inexplicably turned down Samit's request for authority to search Moussaoui's laptop computer and personal effects.
Those same officials stonewalled Samit's supervisor, who pleaded with them in late August 2001 that he was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center." (Yes, he was that explicit.) Later, testifying at Moussaoui's trial, Samit testified that he believed the behavior of his FBI superiors in Washington constituted "criminal negligence."

The 9/11 Commission ultimately concluded that Moussaoui was most likely being primed as a Sept. 11 replacement pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if information about his arrest had been announced.WikiLeaks might have provided a pressure valve for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors' seeming indifference. They were indeed stuck in a perplexing, no-win ethical dilemma as time ticked away. Their bosses issued continual warnings against "talking to the media" and frowned on whistle-blowing, yet the agents felt a strong need to protect the public.
The other one of us writing this piece, Federal Air Marshal Bogdan Dzakovic, once co-led the Federal Aviation Administration's Red Team to probe for vulnerabilities in airport security. He also has a story of how warnings were ignored in the run-up to Sept. 11. In repeated tests of security, his team found weaknesses nine out of 10 times that would make it possible for hijackers to smuggle weapons aboard and seize control of airplanes. But the team's reports were ignored and suppressed, and the team was shut down entirely after 9/11.
In testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Dzakovic summed up his experience this way: "The Red Team was extraordinarily successful in killing large numbers of innocent people in the simulated attacks …[and yet] we were ordered not to write up our reports and not to retest airports where we found particularly egregious vulnerabilities.... Finally, the FAA started providing advance notification of when we would be conducting our 'undercover' tests and what we would be checking."
The commission included none of Dzakovic's testimony in its report.
Looking back, Dzakovic believes that if WikiLeaks had existed at the time, he would have gone to it as a last resort to highlight what he knew were serious vulnerabilities that were being ignored.
The 9/11 Commission concluded, correctly in our opinion, that the failure to share information within and between government agencies — and with the media and the public — led to an overall failure to "connect the dots."
Many government careerists are risk-averse. They avoid making waves and, when calamity strikes, are more concerned with protecting themselves than with figuring out what went wrong and correcting it.
Decisions to speak out inside or outside one's chain of command — let alone to be seen as a whistle-blower or leaker of information — is fraught with ethical and legal questions and can never be undertaken lightly. But there are times when it must be considered. Official channels for whistle-blower protections have long proved illusory. In the past, some government employees have gone to the media, but that can't be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. For all of these reasons, WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety valve.
Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for more than 20 years, was legal counsel to the FBI field office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. Bogdan Dzakovic was a special agent for the FAA's security division. He filed a formal whistle-blower disclosure against the FAA for ignoring the vulnerabilities documented by the Red Team. For the past nine years he has been relegated to entry-level staff work for the Transportation Security Administration.

Monday, December 13, 2010

David Kelly death: Daily Mail publishes legal document calling for a formal inquest

Today, the Daily Mail publishes for the first time the legal document which could trigger a full coroner's inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly.
The document, formally known as a memorial was written by group of campaigning doctors who have been trying to secure an inquest since 2004.
It lists the sequence of events which led up to Dr Kelly's death and the legal reasons they believe an inquest ought to be held...
The memorial argues that Dr Kelly’s death was not sufficiently investigated and claims that there are a large number of irregularities surrounding it.It names Lord Falconer, once Tony Blair's flatmate and in June 2003 appointed Lord Chancellor, as the architect of the public inquiry into Dr Kelly's death chaired by Lord Hutton.
It was Falconer who proposed the controversial decision to abandon a coroner's inquest, where witnesses would be cross-examined under oath, and replace it with a non-statutory examination of the circumstances leading to Dr Kelly's death. As a result no witness, including Tony Blair and his press secretary Alastair Campbell, swore an oath or was cross-examined...
The memorial addresses - and answers - each of the six legal points necessary for a coroner's inquest to be re-opened. Under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 only one of these points has to be satisfied for an inquest to take place.
The 10,000-word document was co-authored by doctors Stephen Frost, Martin Birnstingl, Christopher Burns-Cox, David Halpin and Andrew Rouse...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

FBI interferes with release of NAS report on the scientific aspects of the Amerithrax case

As I told the audience at the Anthrax Letters Seminar on November 29,
Please remember that the FBI “owns” the narrative of this case.  It has released piecemeal findings, contradictory facts, and withheld a large amount of information from the public record... 
Most important, the facts of this case (as opposed to what the FBI has released in a controlled fashion) have never been contested and established in a court of law.
 FBI's newest gambit is intended to reshape the (FBI-purchased) National Academy of Sciences study of FBI's science (FBI clearly wasn't happy with the almost-published report it was given to review), as FBI tries to retain control of the anthrax letters narrative.

According to Yudhijit Bhattacharjee at Science magazine,
The FBI has belatedly provided an expert panel with new information that will delay a long-awaited report on the scientific merits of the government's investigation into the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings...  The academy panel submitted the report to the FBI on 27 October. On 3 December, FBI officials provided new material and asked for an opportunity to make a presentation before the committee.
According to Greg Gordon at McClatchy,
A New Jersey congressman has called the request "disturbing" and asked the FBI for an explanation. 
In a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller Thursday, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt said that it appears that the FBI "may be seeking to try to steer or otherwise pressure the NAS panel to reach a conclusion desired by the bureau." 
Holt, a scientist and the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said the academy recently shared with the bureau its draft report on the "Amerithrax" investigation, a narrow scientific review that the FBI requested in 2008 in an effort to quell controversy over its findings that a disgruntled government scientist was behind the attacks. 
"This week I was informed by the NAS that the FBI would be releasing an additional 500 pages of previously undisclosed investigative material from the Amerithrax investigation to the NAS," he wrote. Holt said he understands that the "document dump . . . is intended to contest and challenge the independent NAS panel's draft findings."
"If these new documents were relevant to the NAS' review, why were they previously undisclosed and withheld?" Holt wrote. He requested a meeting with the FBI director...
 According to Megan Eckstein at the Frederick NewsPost,
The FBI's move came as a surprise to the academy. Spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh said on Nov. 30 the committee was finalizing its report for the upcoming release, and in a Dec. 10 e-mail she wrote "at that time we didn't know we would receive any relevant information.
"We were surprised given our prior request for all relevant information," she said. "Some, but not all, of what the FBI has now turned over is relevant to the committee's charge, and they are the type of materials we requested previously. However, I can't characterize what types of materials they are."
Information on Congressman Holt's response to the latest FBI trick and his letter to FBI Director Mueller can be found here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

David Kelly: No fingerprints on tablets in his pocket or knife he supposedly used to commit suicide/ Daily Mail

Calls for an inquest are made anew as lack of fingerprints on the two items supposedly used to commit suicide, (3 packs of ten Co-proxamol [Darvon plus Tylenol] tablets and a pruning knife) becomes public knowledge.

Note that blood levels of Darvon and Tylenol were therapeutic, and did not support any overdose.  Why Kelly would choose a pruning knife instead of a razor blade is another question, especially since the knife had no fingerprints on it and there were no gloves at the death scene.

This case is as ridiculous as the case against Ivins for the anthrax letters.  For Kelly there was no inquest, either--and the doctor who performed the autopsy, Nicholas Hunt, missed major findings, claiming the "overdose" that wasn't one contributed to Kelly's death.
From the Daily Mail:
Fresh doubts have been raised over how Dr David Kelly died after police admitted no fingerprints were found on the packs of pills he supposedly overdosed on...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Influenza vaccine clinical trials: reliable evidence is thin, but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions/ Cochrane

A 2010 update to Cochrane's 2007 metaanalysis of the published clinical trial literature on influenza vaccinations found not a lot to recommend the vaccines.  Cochrane pointed out, "Healthy adults are presently targeted mainly in North America."  The implication is that Europe, where most reviewers reside, is too smart to push mass flu shots on its healthy population.
In the relatively uncommon circumstance of vaccine matching the viral circulating strain and high circulation, 4% of unvaccinated people versus 1% of vaccinated people developed influenza symptoms (risk difference (RD) 3%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2% to 5%)...  Vaccination had a modest effect on time off work and had no effect on hospital admissions or complication rates. Inactivated vaccines caused local harms and an estimated 1.6 additional cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome per million vaccinations. The harms evidence base is limited.
CONCLUSIONS: Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Military Contractors Were Granted Legal Indemnity for Hazardous Substances (including anthrax vaccine)/ NY Times

The manufacturer of the only licensed anthrax vaccine (Emergent Biosolutions, a.k.a. Bioport) purchased the company from the state of Michigan in September 1998 immediately after the Army promised to indemnify the company (provide a free insurance policy) against claims for side effects, lack of efficacy and other potential problems.

The language in the contract was questioned at the time, as the vaccine manufacturer received indemnification protection as if it were doing far more hazardous work than simply making a vaccine.  And it was the taxpayer that would foot any bills.

Now we find that the taxpayer did pay:
Several high-profile military contractors pushed for and won legal indemnity from the Pentagon before starting projects that involved exposure to chemical weapons and other highly hazardous substances, according to documents released yesterday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).
The data uncovered by Blumenauer shows that the Pentagon paid legal bills for at least one firm that invoked its indemnity provisions. Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing Inc., manufacturer of an anthrax vaccine widely used by the military, was reimbursed for nearly $650,000 after billing the Army for more than $1.5 million in 2008.
The original Pentagon memo granting indemnity to Emergent described, as did the KBR contracts that prompted the National Guardsmen's lawsuits, the nature of the "unusually hazardous" risks facing the biotechnology company.
"Production and testing of [the anthrax vaccine] require interaction with one of the most lethal biological agents known to man," the November 2000 memo stated, providing for an indemnity claim by Emergent in case of the "release (or alleged release) of an infectious agent or toxic chemical into the environment in connection with" work required by the contract...
UPDATE May 26, 2011:  From the Oregonian, snippets:
Oregonians on Wednesday successfully amended the House Defense Authorization bill to spotlight who pays when a defense contractor causes harm.

The amendment requires the Pentagon to report when it enters or changes immunity agreements with contractors. It is the latest strategy by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader to boost the transparency into defense contracts... 

Blumenauer sought to get a copy of the indemnification clause in the KBR contract, which remains classified. But Blumenauer was able to make public 124 contracts with similar immunity provisions from the Pentagon. The list indicated the government legally covers dozens of military contractors doing dangerous jobs, such as making anthrax vaccine or disposing of mustard gas...