As BBC4 prepares to televise its new scare documentary Contagion AoA re-posts a sequence of articles by UK editor, John Stone, from 2009-10 highlighting an earlier shadowy attempt to hi-jack global health agenda by the vaccine industry. While AoA does not take the view that a deadly infectious pandemic is an impossibility there is major problem of distorting health policy, and promoting ineffective and dangerous solutions, warned about once again recently by infectious disease expert Tom Jefferson.
By John Stone (May 17, 2009)
The most recent paroxysm in the swine flu saga begs some interesting questions which scarcely ought to be swept aside. Last week veteran Australian scientist, Adrian Gibbs, author of 250 peer review studies raised the issue whether H1N1 virus could have been created in a lab error. Of course, denials were rapid. ABC News reported (HERE.)
"Technically it's plausible but not likely," (said) Christopher Ohl, an associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a specialist in infectious diseases.
"In this case I'm not concerned that this virus represents anything other than a naturally occurring mixture of viruses happening in nature," concluded Dr. Julie Gerberding, an infectious disease expert and the former director of the CDC...
Regardless of the validity of Gibb's claims, he and several experts say that just bringing the idea of laboratory security to the public's attention is important.
"There are lives at risk," Gibbs said. "The sooner this idea gets out, the better."
In 2001, foot-and-mouth disease led to the slaughter of more than 6 million animals, all after a vial went missing from a research laboratory in the United Kingdom.
Since then, however, experts said lab security and regulations have been getting tighter and better.
"Laboratories have a lot of security from having this happen, and it's very unlikely," Ohl said of the new theory about swine flu's origin.
But have things improved since 2001? Probably the scariest story this year has so far been overlooked by the media at large. On February 27 an article appeared in the Toronto Sun by Helen Branwell, ‘Baxter: Product contained live bird flu virus’ (link no longer available, but confirmation in the record of the British parliament):
The company that released contaminated flu virus material from a plant in Austria confirmed Friday that the experimental product contained live H5N1 avian flu viruses.
And an official of the World Health Organization’s European operation said the body is closely monitoring the investigation into the events that took place at Baxter International’s research facility in Orth-Donau, Austria.
“At this juncture we are confident in saying that public health and occupational risk is minimal at present,” medical officer Roberta Andraghetti said from Copenhagen, Denmark.
But what remains unanswered are the circumstances surrounding the incident in the Baxter facility in Orth-Donau.
The contaminated product, a mix of H3N2 seasonal flu viruses and unlabelled H5N1 viruses, was supplied to an Austrian research company. The Austrian firm, Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, then sent portions of it to sub-contractors in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany.
The contamination incident, which is being investigated by the four European countries, came to light when the subcontractor in the Czech Republic inoculated ferrets with the product and they died. Ferrets shouldn’t die from exposure to human H3N2 flu viruses...”
According to science columnist Mark Henderson writing in the London Times on May 4, the real danger from the new swine flu virus H1N1 would be if it combined with the previous big viral scare, avian flu H5N1:
The biggest worry would be if a person or a pig became infected with both swine flu and H5N1 avian flu at the same time. As the former is highly transmissible but does not appear to be particularly lethal, while the latter is highly virulent but does not spread easily, a reassortment between the two could generate a very dangerous strain.
Of course, it would not be wise on its own to take anything Henderson says too seriously, bearing in mind his boss is a director of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and he is associated with the pharmaceutical lobby organisation Sense About Science . However, bearing in mind the Toronto Sun story of February it is not exactly encouraging that WHO and the CDC have chosen Baxter as well as GlaxoSmithKline to develop a vaccine against H1N1.
So many aspects of these stories are not re-assuring. There have been no further reports on the Baxter bird flu fiasco since February, which at best sounds like criminal negligence of a high order – meanwhile the WHO and CDC remain silent. Health officials have failed to deny that the swine flu virus could have been created in a laboratory, but merely claim that such a security lapse is unlikely, when we know a much worse one occurred within the last 3 months. And Julie Gerberding, out-going director of CDC, fails to deny that swine flu is man-made but only tells us that she is “not concerned”.
By John Stone (August 14, 2009)
There was a remarkable moment in the unfolding swine flu saga on UK television on Tuesday morning. Following the publication of a systematic review of the safety of anti-virals such as Tamiflu and Relenza for children which came to the view that they were contra-indicated for the under-12s TV interviewer Andrew Castle presented health minister Andy Burnham with the case of his own daughter, Georgina. Georgina, who suffers from asthma, had been prescribed Tamiflu without seeing a doctor on suspicion that she had swine flu, and was subsequently taken to hospital with respiratory collapse. The interview also highlighted the fact that in many cases if you are presently suspected of having swine flu you will not be seen by a doctor for fear of contagion, and will be interviewed by people with no medical training – often in their teens – before being handed out anti-viral drugs. Despite the publication of the new study the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, is sticking to his guns that Tamiflu should be given to children on the basis that the new study was based on the treatment of conventional flu not swine flu (video no longer available). Castle also pointed out that other adolescents at his daughter’s school had suffered ill-effects from the drug.
It should be stated categorically, whatever people in the United States believe about our National Health Service in the UK, that these events are completely without precedent in its history. By now we are having deaths of people who have been prevented from seeing doctors and given wrong diagnoses as a result of the scare Mother Dies of Meningitis After Swine Flu Diagnosis, Girl Dies of Meningitis after Swine Flu Diagnosis ). Many children are suffering the vile and unnecessary side-effects of Tamiflu. We have thousands of people bunking off work on suspicion of having the illness (Swine Flu Skivers Cost Firms More than Virus), and a doctor wrote to me last week complaining that the numbers were being artificially inflated:
'I have been doing locums in lots of different practices . In some Primary Care Trusts, they are remunerating GPs for their extra swine flu work by looking at how many consultations are logged as 'swine flu', so I have been told to enter any cold, upper-respiratory tract infection , fever etc as swine flu, and some GPs are going back in their patients records since the swine flu started and re-labelling the reason for the consultation. Is it any wonder there are so many cases?'
But what is very interesting about all this is that although many people have been scared by all the hype (which has been led by the World Health Organization and by the UK government) they are also beginning to learn the lesson and have become profoundly cynical about what is going on - more people joke about it than are scared, but they are also beginning to be very fed up. It is instructive to look at the posts under the Daily Mail report of the Castle interview: most posters think the whole thing has been got up by the pharmaceutical industry and the government to sell their products: they are also vastly apprehensive about the forthcoming universal vaccination campaign with vaccines which they know have not been properly tested (Children Given Untested Swine Flu Vaccine).
The unprecedented nature of the proposed arrangements seems to have led the Department of Health to fabricate the claim that there was a similar mass vaccination against smallpox in 1964 (HERE ) (the last numerically significant smallpox vaccinations in the UK seem to have taken place in 1960 and 62, involving less than 700,000 people in total (HERE ).
Whatever, the origins of the virus the cynical view of much of the public is perhaps no better than our governments and the pharmaceutical industry deserve. Despite our overloaded vaccine schedules - in the UK we have 25 vaccines by 13 months – the pharmaceutical industry is still placing its major hopes for expansion in the area of vaccines in the next decade (Pharma 2020 Vision , Doubling Vaccine Sales by 2013 , Kids Vaccine Market Set to Quadruple ). In the circumstances it is an interesting question how this could possibly be accomplished without a series of gigantic, global health-scares? All we can say is - if this is the case - that in the UK at the moment it appears not to be working, and if we are visited by more dangerous viruses in future people may not see the pharmaceutical industry and the government as their protectors.
Managing Editor's Note: We'll continue to inform you about the H1N1 vaccination program so that you can make an informed choice for your family. The comments following the article John references (in the UK's Mail Online) are interesting.
By John Stone (August 17, 2009)
Concern is finally being raised in the UK media that government agencies are failing to be straight with the public over the safety of the proposed swine flu vaccine now scheduled for release in October.
Leaked documents show that there is concern – as with the previous US swine flu scare in 1976 – that the vaccine might give rise to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis or death. A letter was sent to 600 neurologists from Professor Elizabeth Miller of the Health Protection Agency acknowledging concern on 29 July, two days after a letter circulated amongst the Association of British Neurologists by Dr Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, chair of its surveillance unit, and Professor Patrick Chinnery chair of its clinical research committee. The leak highlights the fact that Prof Miller is prepared to disclose the concern secretly to professionals but not the public. Her letter, quoted in the Mail on Sunday, states:
The vaccines used to combat an expected swine influenza pandemic in 1976 were shown to be associated with GBS and were withdrawn from use.
GBS has been identified as a condition needing enhanced surveillance when the swine flu vaccines are rolled out.
Reporting every case of GBS irrespective of vaccination or disease history is essential for conducting robust epidemiological analyses capable of identifying whether there is an increased risk of GBS in defined time periods after vaccination, or after influenza itself, compared with the background risk.
In 2001-2 Prof Miller director of Public Health Service Laboratory, which was later incorporated into the Health Protection Agency, disclosed funding from several vaccine manufacturers – including those currently favoured by government contracts for swine flu vaccine – Smith Kline Beecham (fore-runner of GSK) and Baxter Healthcare . It is not clear what the position is today. Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when Baxter, who are under investigation for circulating live avian flu virus in batches of ordinary flu vaccine to destinations in central Europe, were nevertheless awarded part of the contract for the manufacture of swine flu vaccine both globally and in the UK. No explanation of the incident has yet come to light.
Prof Miller is exceptionally well connected. A recent biographical note states:
‘Professor Elizabeth Miller is the Head of the Immunisation Department at the Health Protection Agency, Centre for Infections in Colindale North West London. She joined the Epidemiological Research Laboratory in 1978 to work on the large post-licensure safety and efficacy studies of pertussis vaccines that were being conducted following the collapse of the UK whooping cough immunisation programme in the mid 1970s. This experience prompted her continuing interest in the risks and benefits of vaccination programmes and organising trials of new vaccines. She has been involved with trials of acellular pertussis, MMR, Hib, meningococcal C vaccines and more recently the new pneumococcal vaccines. Her other interests include seroepidemiology and mathematical modelling, vaccine safety studies and viral infections in pregnancy. Professor Miller also has wide experience of committee membership, covering bodies such as the UK and European licensing authorities, the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, various Data Safety Monitoring Boards, The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) subgroups and scientific organisations such as the Medical Research Council. She has also led or acted as an external expert on various European projects combined with her work for the European Medicines Evaluation Agency.’
Another report in the Daily Telegraph reveals that the GSK version of the swine flu vaccine will contain mercury:
Prof David Salisbury, head of immunisation at the Department of Health, said the vaccines will arrive in vials containing about ten doses as it is not feasible to produce or store single-dose preloaded syringes on the scale needed to vaccine the 11m people who will be offered the vaccine between October and December.
He said, if only one or two doses in a vial are used on one day the GSK vaccine can be stored overnight in the fridge and the remaining doses used the next day. However the Baxter vaccine, which does not contain thiomersal, would have to be thrown away if the whole vial's contents were not used within three hours, he added.
Initially, the vaccines are to be targeted children and adults with underlying health problems, and pregnant women, not groups on whom it is likely to have been trialed in the first place.
By John Stone (August 18, 2009)
There were two new stories in UK media today, indicating the lack of administrative grip on the almost entirely government fabricated situation. One was the tragic plea of a father of teenage girl who had died of tonsillitis to close down the government’s swine flu helpline and the other was a panel of government advisers –notably Prof Hugh Pennington - seeking to distance themselves from government policy in Tamiflu. This had less to do with unpleasant side-effects for Tamiflu which has recently been exciting public concern, than that it might be instrumental in a relatively benign situation of causing the virus to develop resistance to the drug.
One of the committee, Prof Robert Dingwall, told the Guardian:
"It was felt ... it would simply be unacceptable to the UK population to tell them we had a huge stockpile of drugs but they were not going to be made available."
However, firm responsibility for any public panic must lie with government and the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who told the media a month ago that 65,000 people might die from the virus in the UK (HERE ). The yawning gap between Sir Liam and reality was demonstrated in an article by Pennington on 27 July. In a week when people were being told that 100,000 people had the virus, the government had a mere 31 confirmed cases out of 212 tested for. Pennington – who nevertheless favours a vaccination campaign – wrote:
The best way to assess the accuracy of diagnosis in sentinel practices is to get them to send samples from patients for virology. But only 137 English patients were tested for this purpose last week; 27 were positive. As a sample supposedly covering the whole nation, this is pathetic. All that can be said in its favour is that the rest of the UK did no better; 12 tests were done in Wales (one positive) and 13 in Northern Ireland (one positive). There are 58 sentinel practices in Scotland. They sent in 50 samples; two were positive.
The absurdity was further highlighted in the letter of Gloucester GP, Patrick Lush, to BMJ today:
I am An Inner City GP in England, in the past 3 or 4 weeks I have been seeing patient(s) with what I suspect is H1N1 'swine flu', I am treating some of these cases with antiviral medication. The numbers of people that I diagnose will go toward making up the numbers of the UK flu epidemic numbers. But I am not allowed to take swabs on even a proportion of the cases. So that even in retrospect I will not be able to see if my diagnoses are correct. The computer saying 'rubbish in, rubbish out' comes to mind when assessing the UK statistics. Incidentally the numbers of patients with fever, myalgia and what I take to be 'swine flu' went down last week as compared to the week before. I await the late Autumn and winter with interest.
The stockpiling of Tamiflu goes back to the early days of the avian flu scare when Sir Liam told the BBC that the virus was certain to combine and mutate with regular flu virus and that he expected 50, 000 people in the UK to die:
A bird flu pandemic will hit Britain - but not necessarily this winter, the chief medical officer has said.
Sir Liam Donaldson said a deadly outbreak would come when a strain of bird flu mutated with human flu.
He told the BBC's Sunday AM show it would probably kill about 50,000 people in the UK, but the epicentre of any new strain was likely to be in East Asia.
The UK has so far stockpiled 2.5m doses of anti-viral drugs - and may restrict travel if there is an outbreak.
How he knew this we do not know: four years later, of course, we are still waiting, although the mysterious Baxter incident earlier this year might have brought it to an end. At the very least we know that the Baxter incident did not seem to discourage the World Health Organization and the British government from ordering swine flu vaccine from them.
By John Stone (August 19, 2009)
Articles in the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard today reported government contingency plans for mass burials in the event of the swine flu epidemic taking off. Following a meeting last month the Home Office has published a 56 page document ‘The Framework of Planners Preparing to Manage Deaths’. Faced with lurid projections that they would not be able to bury the bodies fast enough it is interesting to report that the overwhelming response of readers was of profound scepticism and derision. People suspect they are being manipulated, some blame the newspaper (which was plainly just reporting) and some blame the government and the pharmaceutical industry.
Comments such as:
“What mad cow thought this one up?”
“What a joke. Someone somewhere must be worrying we are all going to refuse the vaccination...”
“I have better idea - dig a mass grave and drop all the Members of Parliament in...”
(One swear at the end of this Monty Python classic. Spend 2 minutes and have a laugh.)
“Doesn’t it make you glad to be British...well organised and prepared for the worst. This is a flipping flu epidemic...more chance of dying after you have had the untried jab...”
I bet if an MP were to die of swine flu he/she would not be buried in a mass grave”
“It’s not cholera! Its’s not bubonic plague! Its just swine flu which has been hyped up by the drug interest and the media!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake I am still waiting to catch bird flu!”
This is admittedly not the first plan of its kind. In 2006 the government published plans for the excess burial of 320,000 people from avian flu. But while chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, was insisting that the arrival of human bird flu was only a matter of time chief government scientist Sir David King was briefing that the chances of it happening were “very low” and reports that a global pandemic was inevitable were “totally misleading”.
The scepticism was recently echoed by leading Cochrane Collaboration epidemiologist Tom Jefferson in Der Spiegel:
“SPIEGEL: Mr. Jefferson, the world is living in fear of swine flu. And some predict that, by next winter, one-third of the world's population might be infected. Are you personally worried? Are you and your family taking any precautions?
“Tom Jefferson: I wash my hands very often -- and it's not all because of swine flu. That's probably the most effective precaution there is against all respiratory viruses, and the majority of gastrointestinal viruses and germs as well.
“SPIEGEL: Do you consider the swine flu to be particularly worrisome?
“Jefferson : It's true that influenza viruses are unpredictable, so it does call for a certain degree of caution. But one of the extraordinary features of this influenza -- and the whole influenza saga -- is that there are some people who make predictions year after year, and they get worse and worse. None of them so far have come about, and these people are still there making these predictions. For example, what happened with the bird flu, which was supposed to kill us all? Nothing. But that doesn't stop these people from always making their predictions. Sometimes you get the feeling that there is a whole industry almost waiting for a pandemic to occur.
“SPIEGEL: Who do you mean? The World Health Organization (WHO)?
“Jefferson: The WHO and public health officials, virologists and the pharmaceutical companies. They've built this machine around the impending pandemic. And there's a lot of money involved, and influence, and careers, and entire institutions! And all it took was one of these influenza viruses to mutate to start the machine grinding...”
Of course, this is only part humorous. The project has already caused medical chaos in the UK and cost the lives of people who couldn’t get to a doctor with other more life threatening conditions. But also many people have been frightened, first of all by the prospect of catching what is in most cases a mild illness, but also now the possibility that governments are engaged in a policy of mass slaughter. Some of the comments in the Daily Mail reflect this – I have little doubt this is a paranoid misjudgement and the main motives behind this disreputable episode are financial and pharmaceutical industry growth plans. However, the amount of mistrust engendered by the swine flu affair will not be easily repaired. If I was an investor I would start to unload my pharma stocks now.
By John Stone (January 13, 2010)
Annual flu deaths in the UK averaged no more than 33 over the last 4 years despite an earlier statement by the Department of Health that 12,000 people die in the country from flu every year. Recent disclosures by out-going Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson demonstrate that such figures are fabricated to boost vaccination uptake. Quizzed in on-line British Medical Journal by deputy editor Tony Delamothe, Sir Liam posted details late on Christmas Eve.
Sir Liam and colleagues state that an:
"Estimate of ‘flu deaths is found in the annual mortality statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics. These statistics record the underlying cause of death. They are based on all registered deaths, based on the information on death certificates. The number of deaths for England & Wales with an underlying cause of influenza (ICD-10 code J10-J11) for the four recent calendar years are: 39 (2008), 31 (2007), 17 (2006) and 44 (2005). Many more deaths are attributed to pneumonia, some of which will be secondary to influenza.
However, they also give another official method of estimating flu deaths which greatly inflates the numbers in some years:
The official estimate of influenza mortality is produced by the Health Protection Agency. It is derived from excess all-cause death registrations in the winter. When the number of all-cause death registrations rises above an ‘expected’ level in a given week, this excess is counted. The estimates for the last five years in England & Wales are: 1965 (2004-05 winter season), 0 (2005-06), 0 (2006-07), 426 (2007- 08), and 10351 (2008-09). The highest estimate in recent years was for the 1999-2000 ‘flu season, at 21,497.
It is interesting to note that in two out of five quoted recent years there was a zero figure, which means that mortality was under the projected estimate, and therefore a negative sum. Since projected mortality can only be based on average, it is inevitable that in some years it will be above and others below. The Department of Health has also tried to associate flu death with entire excess mortality for the winter season. For instance, a BBC news report with Sir Liam - which was part of the annual flu vaccine drive in 2007 - declared:
"According to Department of Health figures, flu contributes to over 25,000 excess winter deaths every year and thousands of people are hospitalised due to serious complications."
Less ambiguously a pamphlet on pandemic flu, published by the Department of Health and with an introduction by Sir Liam states:
"Ordinary flu occurs every year during the winter months in the UK. It affects 10-15% of the UK population, causing around 12,000 deaths every year."
A factor of 360 separates 33 deaths a year from 12,000. It is not clear what impact, if any, flu vaccination – which is far from universal – has on mortality, but fictitiously high death rates from flu continue to be invoked in support of the vaccination campaign.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.