Thursday, January 28, 2010

H1N1 scandal

As the world sits on massive stockpiles of unused and unwanted H1N1 vaccines, the WHO comes under investigation by PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) for its (mis)handling of the 2009 'pandemic'. Earlier, Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, Head of Health at the Council of Europe, accused the makers of flu drugs and vaccines of influencing the World Health Organisation's decision to declare a pandemic.

Among the accusations was the way WHO had modified the definition of a pandemic to make it easier for a pandemic to be declared. Previously (2005) the definition of a pandemic required there to be an enormous loss of lives, but with the new definition, it was only required for there to be 'worldwide epidemic'.

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in several, simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness. (WHO, 2005)

A disease epidemic occurs when there are more cases of that disease than normal. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic of a disease. An influenza pandemic may occur when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity. (WHO, 2009)

Now, Professor Ulrich Keil, director of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Epidemiology, gave evidence before the inquiry, that the 'the swine flu pandemic was part of an overblown “angst campaign”, devised in conjunction with major drug companies to boost profits for vaccine manufacturers.'

Not looking very good for WHO.... but pandemic communications expert Peter Sandman has another view of the proceedings. He reportedly told CIDRAP News that 'critics at today's hearing seemed unable to distinguish between what they called a "fake pandemic" and one that has so far turned out less severe than it might have been.'

'.... WHO may have set itself up for unfair criticism by making the same mistake the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made, which led to successful attacks on its credibility: failing to acknowledge the small piece of the truth their critics are getting right.

The critics' strongest arguments are: first, that the WHO should have more quickly admitted that the pandemic was milder than initial evidence suggested; and second, that the WHO routinely included severity among factors to be considered before raising pandemic phases, until its most recent pandemic guidance revision, published in April 2009......

"By failing to concede these two points, WHO gives unjustified credibility to the critics' other, much less valid claims," he said. "Good guys have a harder time than bad guys understanding the need to concede the validity of valid criticisms, even when they're packaged with invalid ones."'


MM SZ said...

Linked under, 'Health'. Thanks Gigamole.

mousey said...

Thanks for the post!

Even layman like me can sense H1N1 was over-hyped long time ago - by opening ze eyes and ears to observe what happens at ground level and following the statistics.

gigamole said...

To be fair to our own MOH, it is very difficult to cut across the grain be out of step with WHO. But one had hoped that our own infectious disease epidemiologists might have been a bit more discerning and critical about the emerging data, and had made their own critical appraisals about the unfolding situation instead of just echoing the pundits from WHO and CDC.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi gigamole,
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I may be the only one , but I prefer over-preparedness to under-preparedness.
If we did not stock up vaccines and H1N1 turns out to be worse than expected- these same critics will say-- hey we told you the virus is deadly and why did not take our expert advice?
Food for thought.

Dr Huang

gigamole said...

Hi SC,

I don't disagree with you one bit about the need for being prepared. And certainly there are merits to being over-prepared. I think the question was whether the alarm was needlessly sounded, or some sort of more measured response would have been more appropriate.

You are right of course, that we now have the wisdom of hindsight, but that's how we learn isn't it? The problem also is that we routinely over-react, you may be faced with a cynical and apathetic population the next time when a real pandemic hits.

Of course if this whole thing was inflated so as to make money for big pharma, that would be the ultimate betrayal.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi gig,
About over-reacting: MOH was forcing even the private hospitals to put up measures as if we were having Ebola virus and when the pte hospitals suggested to them that maybe it was about time to scale down the hysterical measures a bit- a veiled threat was issued that they will not be responsible if widespread infections took place here! Hats off to the pte hospital managament, because they just decided that 'nuff was 'nuff and we just stopped screening there and then ( many months before the public hospitals stood down).
I think SGH is still having screening for relatives visiting patients in ward! Unbelievable!
Just like when North Korean dictator Kim attends a function and the whole hall claps non-stop for hours because if you are the first to stop clapping then you are deemed disloyal and subversive!

gigamole said...'s quite surreal the way everyone goes through the motions of it all but obviously not really believing that there is a real pandemic. Like one of those emergency drills that go on for way too long.....