WASHINGTON — Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. is trying to convince doctors that the best drug for children's ear infections is not the cheap, proven antibiotic the government recommends, but Pfizer's own pricey product.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in January that amoxicillin should be doctors' first choice for treating ear infections, which account for 25 million visits to doctors' offices each year.
The CDC ranked Pfizer's competing Zithromax among other antibiotics that "lack good evidence" for effectiveness against ear infections.
But the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen uncovered a schedule for Pfizer teleconferences targeted at doctors nationwide "to counter the CDC guidelines."
"We urge you to inform the nation's pediatricians . . . of this campaign so they are not duped into draining the Medicaid program of needed resources and of wasting large amounts of money on treating other patients with this needlessly expensive and second-rate drug for ear infections," the advocacy group said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
A Pfizer spokeswoman defended the campaign, saying the Food and Drug Administration had approved Zithromax for ear infections.
The CDC is "just basically weighing in with yet another opinion," she added, noting the agency's amoxicillin recommendation is not an official treatment guideline.
Pfizer has aggressively promoted Zithromax to doctors and parents, including giving away the drug's beanbag mascot, Max the Zebra. Max lives on an Internet site called KidsEars, which tells parents to ask their doctors about Pfizer's drug.