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You've heard it before, how the pharmaceutical industry has a giant "revolving door" through which corporations and government agencies frequently exchange key employees. That reality was driven home in a huge way today when news broke that Dr. Julie Gerberding, who headed the CDC from 2002 through 2009, landed a top job with Merck, one of the largest drug companies in the world. Her job there? She's the new president of the vaccine division.

How convenient. That means the former head of the CDC was very likely cultivating a relationship with Merck all these years, and now comes the big payoff: Heading up a $5 billion division that sells cervical cancer vaccines (like Gardasil), chickenpox vaccines and of course H1N1 swine flu vaccines, too.

So what's the problem with all this? The problem is that private industry and government health offices such as the CDC or FDA should never be so cozy. When they are, it creates an environment of collusion between Big Government and Big Pharma. We've already seen this with the government-led push for swine flu vaccines that are manufactured (and sold) by drug companies like Merck.

You might even say that the CDC already functions as the marketing division of the pharmaceutical industry. It was the CDC that pushed so hard for swine flu vaccines, even amid the obvious realization that swine flu was no more dangerous than seasonal flu. To this day, the CDC still hasn't bothered to recommend vitamin D for the prevention of either seasonal flu or swine flu. It remains heavily invested in the lucrative vaccine approach -- an approach that just happens to financially benefit the very corporations that are hiring ex-CDC employees like Dr. Gerberding.

How to triple your salary by selling out to industry

Getting a job offer from Big Pharma, by the way, is one of the most-desired career paths for many CDC employees (and FDA workers, for that matter). It's easy to accomplish it, too: Just operate in your government position as if you were a Big Pharma lackey. If you produce enough good business for the drug industry, sooner or later they'll offer you a lucrative position that doubles or triples your government salary (or even better).

Now, I don't want to lump all CDC employees in this same pathetic group, because there are indeed a great many bright, honest scientists working at the CDC who do excellent work tracking pandemics and trying to save lives. They are overshadowed, however, by those ambitious profit seekers who see their CDC job as merely a stepping stone for a far better-paying job at a major drug companies. And by any measure, Dr. Gerberding just cashed in big.

Her actual salary at Merck hasn't been publicly released yet, but given that she's heading up a $5 billion vaccine industry, it's probably not chump change. I'd bet she's now making at least ten times the salary of the President of the United States (and probably a lot more).


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