Filipe Froes in a recent television interview where he said: "We are going to have the third dose of the vaccine..."

Covid-19 specialist receives €385,000 from big pharma, says Expresso

This is the gist of a story appearing in Portugal’s mainstream after being denounced over three months ago over social media: the nation’s pandemic experts can – and do – receive large sums of money from big pharma.

Writer and former journalist with Expresso Pedro Almeida Vieira picked up on the subject floated online back in March and has done his research.

As some have said, it is the kind of work every journalist should have been doing.

Today, Expresso runs with the headline: “Filipe Froes received €385,000 from pharmaceutical companies since 2013”.

The pneumologist definitely falls into the bracket of a ‘pandemic specialist’: having commented on Covid-19 on television stations and in newspapers since the outset.

A keen defender not simply of the Covid vaccinations, but their rollout in teenagers and in the form of a third dose – as well as in an intensification this year of vaccines against flu – Expresso explains that “just in 2020 and 2021, for example, Froes received €26,407 from Pfizer”.

He has also received money from AstraZeneca, says the paper – in other words, “two of the manufacturers of vaccines for Covid-19”.

Beyond this, money coming in over the last eight years (see below) has been from roughly 20 other pharmaceutical companies.

Expresso’s text today stresses that in making his public assertions – repeated without question by the media – Filipe Froes has never revealed what the paper calls “his relations with the (pharmaceutical) industry”.

For his part, Filipe Froes has stressed that his interventions have “always been of a technical and scientific nature, based on the best independent evidence available”.

Independent research has pulled him up on this. 

In April this year, for example, he told Expresso that “all the necessary steps” had been taken in creating the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 – meaning, he said, that “the requirements were the same (for the Pfizer vaccine) as those for any other new vaccine in Europe”.

This is despite the fact that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) explained that its authorisation was “conditional”, “in the interests of public health” but on the basis that there was the risk of less than comprehensive data.

EMA’s exact explanation was: “This medicine has received a conditional marketing authorisation. This was granted in the interest of public health because the drug responds to an unsatisfied medical necessity and the benefit of ready availability outweighs the risk of less comprehensive data than normally required”.

Manuel Mendes Silva, President of the General Medical Council’s board of ethics (Conselho Nacional de Ética e Deontologia Médicas da Ordem dos Médicos) has told Expresso that doctors receiving money from pharmaceutical companies “is legal, common and in total conformity with all the ethical principles of medicine”.

He said: “The deontological code of the General Medical Council does not prohibit remunerated doctors from making public statements to the press or other fora on products commercialised by the pharmaceutical companies that pay them”.

The code only impedes doctors from selling said medicines, devices or other medical products to their patients, says the paper.

The truth is that since 2013 all services furnished by health professionals to pharmaceutical companies, as well as “benefits received” over a value of €60, have had to be registered on an Infarmed platform.

A source for the medicines authority told Expresso: “Benefited entities must transmit information regarding the benefit within 30 days of its realisation, being subsequently notified by the regulator to validate it or not validate it (in a reasoned manner)”.

The source added that the platform “implements, in a way that doesn’t apply to any other profession, the obligation of doctors to make known remunerations they earn in relation to the pharmaceutical industry”.

The form in which many do this is by referring to the income as money for “lectures, interventions with no direct relation to drugs but, for example, to pathologies”.

As Filipe Froes has said to Expresso, he has taken part in interventions organised by pharmaceutical companies for more than 20 years – ie since long before 2013 when registration of benefits had to start being registered.

He has also received finance for studies “which would have been impossible to carry out in this country” otherwise.

“To confuse this transparent, registered activity with the capacity to influence national and international response to the pandemic can only reveal total ignorance of the processes involved”, he told the paper.

In fact, the pneumologist said he was all for the rules of transparency governing his profession being extended to other professional classes.

Meantime, Pedro Almeida Vieira who picked up this topic – and ran with it on his social media page to the extent that Expresso developed it into a story (that is now being widely repeated) – has said: “Anyone who thinks social media is not part of the future of unbaised information is very mistaken”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com