There is rather more than is immediately apparent in the recent grudging acknowledgement that the swine flu vaccine increased the risk of the serious sleeping disorder narcolepsy fourteen-fold – and that those affected (mainly children) are entitled to compensation.
As many will recall, the threatened swine flu “pandemic” of 2009 proved something of a non-event, with only 10 per cent of the predicted number of cases and a miniscule mortality rate of 0.0005 per cent.
This discrepancy between the dire warnings and what turned out to be among the mildest flu outbreaks of the past 100 years prompted an inquiry by Paul Flynn MP for the Council of Europe that criticised “the waste of huge sums of public money and the provocation of unjustified fears”, while presciently anticipating “health risks from vaccines and medicines that have not been sufficiently tested”.
Simultaneously, an investigation by the British Medical Journal noted how key scientists advising the World Health Organisation on planning for an pandemic “had done paid work for pharmaceutical companies that stood to gain from the guidance they were preparing”.
Put simply, over the previous decade the pharmaceutical giants had developed a swine flu vaccine at great expense, and obtained a product licence for an antiviral drug, on the basis that it reduced the duration and complications of a flu attack.
Meanwhile, the WHO was preparing draft plans – in collaboration with the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (a drug-company-sponsored organisation) – on how best to combat a major “pandemic”. These recommended (no surprise) that the optimum strategy would be for governments to stockpile large quantities of vaccine and antiviral drugs.
In June 2009, two months after the emergence of a novel strain of the flu virus in Mexico, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general, declared that, following consultation with the relevant experts, “the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met” – anticipating a death toll running into many millions. The pandemic never happened, and Dr Chan has consistently refused to name the experts consulted, and the drug companies made a fortune.
Following the BMJ’s investigation, Dr Chan said that the WHO would establish “stricter rules of engagement with industry” but that commercial interests had never entered her decision-making.