Swine Flu Controversy, Is Something Fishy?
Did the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical industry engage in a questionable relationship during the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak of 2009? Was something fishy going on in how WHO handled the pandemic? This is a controversial issue, and one that a 29-member committee, led by Harvey Fineberg, head of the Institute of Medicine, plans to unravel.
Fineberg told reporters that “The committee is well aware that concerns have been expressed of the potential influence of industry on decision making at various advisory committees and the WHO more generally.”
WHO first addressed the swine flu situation on Saturday, April 25, 2009, during its first meeting of the Emergency Committee, convened by the Director-General. After reviewing the available information on the swine flu outbreak, which at the time had been reported in Mexico and the United States, the Committee agreed the situation was a public health emergency of international consequence.
What followed was months of scrambling by a few pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccine for the swine flu. People were worried that there would not be enough of the vaccine to go around, while at the same time there was a continuous stream of stories about concerns associated with the vaccine, especially for pregnant women.
As the furor over worries about enough vaccine died down, and with a surplus of vaccine in many places, there emerged rumblings about possible mishandling of the pandemic by WHO and their possible involvement with the vaccine manufacturers.
In a statement in the Telegraph in February 2010 by Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, the former head of health at the Council for Europe, he accused the WHO of “faking” the pandemic. “It looks like the WHO is under the influence of industry,” he said at a hearing in Strasbourg. At the time, the vaccine manufacturers had just showed a great increase in profits.
Dr. Wodarg and his followers explained that the issue was not whether the swine flu presented a health risk but whether that risk was significant enough to justify diverting a great amount of money to secure flu vaccines given that other diseases are responsible for many more deaths every year. The Telegraph also noted that the government was holding talks with GlaxoSmithKline to discuss how to dispose of 60 million unwanted doses of vaccine.
Others also raised questions about how WHO handled the pandemic and the fact that far fewer people were infected than had been predicted by the organization. In its defense, WHO officials noted that they had to stress the urgency of the situation when the virus started to spread, as no one could know how serious the pandemic would be. Questions were also stirring about something fishy between some WHO advisers and the pharmaceutical industry.
Fineberg was quoted in EarthTimes as saying that if he and his committee uncovered wrongdoings, the “conclusions and recommendations will be a matter of public record.” The review is not expected to be complete until just before the WHO assembly next year. Until then, controversy over the handling of the swine flu pandemic that was responsible for more than 17,500 deaths will continue.
Earth Times, May 19, 2010
Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2010
World Health Organization