The 2011 “Vaccine Safety Conference” in Jamaica

6 Oct

Earlier this year, a conference was held in Jamaica. The declared subject: vaccine safety. Even from the beginning, it was clear that this was no ordinary scientific conference. It had all the signs of a junket. A meet-and-greet for vaccine “skeptics” and wealthy patrons. Precisely the sort of junket that people complain about “Big Pharma” hosting. Well, not precisely. I suspect even Big Pharma doesn’t put on such a lavish event.

The number of speakers was small (only 19), and didn’t include anyone who is a vaccine researcher. 21 presentations were made in the course of a week, leaving a lot of time for people to enjoy the resort and to network.

Talks included “Rethinking the germ theory”, “Vaccination Programs: Prevention or Corruption?” and “Gardasil: Prophylaxis or Medical Misconduct?”.

Getting a picture of the conference agenda? And by “agenda”, I do not mean the schedule.

The conference received some brief public attention when Anderson Cooper interviewed Andrew Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield (who refused to be on the segment if Seth Mnookin were included) appeared via Skype from that conference in Jamaica. Mr. Wakefield’s talk at the conference: “Autism & Vaccines: a Research Strategy Focused on Cause”.

The event was titled: Vaccine Safety|Evaluating the Science Conference. A nearly one week event (January 3-8) in the Tryall Club in Jamaica.

I’ve been to a lot of scientific conferences. I’ve even helped organize scientific conferences. None of them were ever held in a place remotely similar to the Tryall Club. Heck, when I think of “big pharma” hosting junkets for doctors, it’s in places not nearly as nice as the Tryall Club.

In case you didn’t get a chance to see the website, here’s a picture of the Tryall Club:

Nice, isn’t it? The Tryall Club isn’t a hotel. It is a collection of 86 Villas (including 73 privately owned estate villas) plus 13 “great house” suites.

The property’s 86 villas offer visitors a dazzling array of options, from beachfront bungalows to elegant hillside chalets. Each carefully situated villa offers distinctive architectural elements, a singular style and a unique floor plan. A couple may choose a cozy one-bedroom retreat, while an extended family of several generations may opt for a 7- or 8-bedroom manor.

Consider as an example, the six bedroom “Twin Palms” Villa. Cost for 1 week: $30,000, or $5,000 per bedroom. (Cost is $40K/week if you include the master suite). The Villa comes complete with a staff of 9 and “Dining areas are designed to seat 20 guests or more. Formal dining is in the 80’ dining room under Italian chandeliers at place settings of Lalique crystal, Tiffany china and silver from France.”

As I said, not like any conference I’ve ever attended.

So, who put this conference on? Aside from a stay in Jamaica, were the attendees compensated? I wondered these questions so I emailed the contact address on the website. Here’s the response:

The conference was co-sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center and private individuals and family foundations who are concerned about the safety of vaccine ingredients, preparations, combinations and schedules. Speakers volunteered to speak as is customary for scientific conferences, and accommodations were provided in private homes donated by or as guests of individuals who are concerned about vaccine safety. No funds exchanged hands except to reimburse for travel expenses, which were funded by donations to the National Vaccine Information Center.

The Vaccine Safety Conference

“No funds exchanged hands except to reimburse for travel expenses, which were funded by donations to the National Vaccine Information Center.” Nice. Reimbursing the speakers directly probably isn’t tax deductible. Donating to NVIC is. And it lets NVIC look like they are pulling more money.

Who put this on? The sponsors are listed clearly on the conference website:

Albert J. and Lisa Claire Dwoskin Family Foundation

Cmdr. Richard and Joan Curtis

Mark and Candace Hart

Daisy and Paul Soros

Danny and Stency Wegman

One name jumps out (to me at least): Soros. Sponsors Paul and Daisy Soros. Paul Soros is the brother of George Soros, but is quite well off in his own right.

We are talking some serious money was backing this conference.

Case in point. First in that list is the Dwoskin family. Claire Dwoskin has worked as a board member of the National Vaccine Information Center.

The Dwoskins have hosted fundraisers for political candidates at their home and been guests at White House dinners.

Apparently, they also set up the “vaccine safety” conference website. Mrs. Dwoskin is listed as the contact for the website:

Administrative Contact:
Dwoskin, Claire
Vaccine Safety Conference

No, I did not make that email address up. It really is listed as “novaccine4me”. Pause a moment to consider that choice.

The physical address given for the website contact is that of the McLean, Virginia home of the Dwoskins. It is sizable and valuable. As the domain registration reports, this is also the address for “Vaccine Safety Conference”. It seems reasonable to assume that the Dwoskins are the primary organizers of the conference. The Dwoskins also appear to own other valuable property. Mr. Dwoskin is a real estate developer, so this is no great surprise. But, one property which they (or their business) are associated with: Twin Palms. Yes. the 7 bedroom Villa in Jamaica described above. What leads me to believe this? The website is registered to A.J. Dwoskin & Associates.

Seems reasonable to think that the first tier of presenters at the conference were hosted in Twin Palms.

In case you are curious as to the Dwoskins’ position on vaccines, Mrs. Dwoskin wrote in an email to John Stossel of Fox: “Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems.”

Seriously. A holocaust of poison.

There is nothing wrong with wealthy people hosting gatherings of people on a subject they feel strongly about. Anyone who chooses an email address “novaccines4me” and considers vaccines “a holocaust of poison” certainly has strong feelings.

Wealthy people have a right to offer their hospitality to people who may promote their views. People with less means have the right to accept the largess of the wealthy.

I have the right to voice my opinion. This was a junket. Seriously. 6 days to have 19 speakers present? Rooms costing $5,000 a week? I wonder how much time at the “vaccine safety” conference was spent talking about safety and how much was spent talking about the “holocaust of poison” view of vaccines.

Next time I hear or read about Big Pharma buying off doctors with exotic junkets I’ll be thinking of Andrew Wakefield, talking via Skype from the Tryall Club in Jamaica.

10 Responses to “The 2011 “Vaccine Safety Conference” in Jamaica”

  1. daedalus2u October 6, 2011 at 16:22 #

    It is also a way to “launder” funds donated to a charitable foundation by using them to pay principles in the charitable foundation for services that those principles provide to the charitable foundation.

  2. Liz Ditz November 16, 2011 at 21:53 #

    Conference attendees, organizers are defending the conference at the BMJ

    • Sullivan November 16, 2011 at 22:53 #

      Liz Ditz,

      I see Mr. Shaw’s comment is based on a misinterpretation of the statements:

      “The notion put forward by Mr. Deer that the Jamaica vaccine safety conference was somehow served by vested “anti vaccine” interests because Drs. Wakefield and Lewis’ trip and accommodations were paid for, is simply absurd.”

      I can’t speak for Mr. Deer, but it was clear to this reader that he wasn’t claiming the conference was “served by vested ‘anti vaccine’ interests” because travel expenses were paid. My guess is after a week enjoying the hospitality of Mrs. Dwoskin (who is credited by Barbara Loe Fisher as the prime financial supporter for the conference), Mr. Shaw is more aware of her opinions on vaccines that I am. However, the few examples I have found of her expressing her opinion have not been vaccine supportive. She is the person behind the “holocaust of poison” statement I have referenced, for example.

      • Sullivan November 16, 2011 at 23:24 #

        I guess Mr. Shaw was a bit stung by the statement that the Jamaica conference was “anti vaccine”

        “If Mr. Deer is so blatantly unaware of how most scientific meetings are organized….”

        In nearly 25 years of attending conferences, I can say that I have never had travel expenses paid. This includes a number of invited talks. I did attend one conference where many of the speakers did have travel expenses paid (a NATO Advanced Study Institute.) I don’t believe that organizatio

        Gordon Conferences
        , one of the premiere small scientific conferences and something akin to the structure of the “Vaccine Safety Conference” also requires attendees to pay registration fees.

        Mr. Shaw finishes his comment with: “If Mr. Deer is so blatantly unaware of how most scientific meetings are organized, can we be terribly surprised at his apparent lack of knowledge of the basic science in the MMR case?”

        I am disappointed that Mr. Shaw chose to attack Mr. Deer rather than to try to educate people on what he sees as the “basic science of the MMR case”. If Mr. Shaw has some “Basic Science” which would actually support the Andrew Wakefield hypothesis, he is invited to put it forward.

        Good for Mr. Shaw that he has found his way into a world where he has his travel expenses comped for the conferences he attends. It is not common in my sphere.

        As Mr. Shaw is supported by the Dwoskin family for his research, he might want to include that in his “competing interests”. It would strike this reader that he has a vested interest in not only promoting the “conference” which he helped organize, but in repairing the image of the conference funded by his own benefactor.

      • Sullivan November 17, 2011 at 18:23 #

        I’ll add further,

        I am well aware of the policies in my field. I have worked for the past decade in travel support for the conferences I attend. Travel support is offered, but only to a small subset of students. Invited speakers are not offered support. As noted above, I have been an invited speaker on more than one occasion. The only time I have been offered travel support to attend a conference was not in my professional life, but as a stakeholder to attend IMFAR.

  3. Science Mom November 17, 2011 at 03:03 #

    I’ve read Shaw’s “science” and frankly, he needs a refresher on how to design and conduct a proper study. I’m being generous by implying that he actually knew, at some point, valid study design. I somehow doubt he is going to “educate” Mr. Deer on his “apparent lack of knowledge of the basic science in the MMR case” given his poor grasp of scientific methodology and/or outright lack of ethics.


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