Peter Gross, an infectious disease specialist with the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey wrote that the WHO’s new definition was fuzzy and might incite ill-founded panic. His September editorial in the British Medical Journal echoed epidemiologist Tom Jefferson. Jefferson, formerly a general practitioner in the British Army, who has worked for the well-respected Cochrane Collaboration for 15 years, asked in July, “Don’t you think there’s something noteworthy about the fact that the WHO has changed its definition of pandemic?”
“The WHO and public health officials, virologists and the pharmaceutical companies … They’ve built this machine around the impending pandemic,” Jefferson told Der Spiegel, a German magazine with a weekly circulation of one million. “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.”
The opinion given by Dr. Wodarg at Tuesday’s meeting is that the definition change was designed to boost vaccine sales. “There is no other explanation for what happened. Which reasons could lead to those [WHO] decisions? I don’t find any other explanation. It’s not for health. And who profits? Why else would you change the definition?”
Yet, the WHO stands by its decision to label H1N1 a pandemic, citing geographic spread and the virus’ novelty as its primary reasons. Critics however, say the redefinition wasn’t based on science.
Critics say what was needed was not a frightful label, but hard scientific data to show how many people were getting swine flu.
“Rational scientific independent advice should be supreme, but there was an imperative behind this which was a financial one. I think what we need is evidence from industry that is more science-based,” said Paul Flynn, a parliamentary representative in the UK, who presented at the Council of Europe’s hearing.
Hard scientific data on how many people were getting swine flu might have been derived through rigorous testing, but on July 10, the WHO quit tracking cases of infection and told governments they should stop testing for individual cases, ostensibly because the speed of H1N1’s spread had already been confirmed.
Following that advice, in mid-2009, the CDC decided laboratory tests to confirm whether patients had H1N1 were no longer necessary, and advised doctors to save resources and stop conducting them. A CBS news investigation found “overwhelming” evidence that despite the inflammatory estimations of the CDC, very few flu cases could truly be attributed to H1N1.
In response to questions about the CBS story, CDC media spokesman Jeff Dimond said, “We, as a matter of policy, do not comment on stories by other publications.”
As of July 24, the CDC has used a statistical multiplier to come up with its total count of H1N1 cases – meaning it inflates confirmed cases using estimates about the number of infected people who never go to the doctor or are never tested during visits. In mid-December, using this model, CDC approximated that as many as 80 million, or some one in four Americans had gotten swine flu. But with no flu-strain tests to crosscheck, virtually anything that looks like a bad cold could end up in that total.
The Sky Is Falling … Again
Considering the WHO’s and the CDC’s abysmal track record foreseeing the severity of flu outbreaks, it’s surprising so many doctors bought their story. But then, early on, it was natural to suspect a nightmare scenario: a repeat of the Spanish flu.
Swine flu looks a lot like Spanish flu, which began in pigs and killed between 40 and 100 million people from 1918 to 1919. H1N1 shows three of the key traits which made the Spanish flu so dangerous: our immune systems aren’t used to the virus, which is a new mutation; the flu can be passed from human to human; and, it has triggered immune responses in young people, not just the vulnerable elderly, according to Dr. Dawn Motyka, a vaccination expert in Santa Cruz, California.
Despite apparent similarities between the two flu’s, a cursory look at history should have made the medical community more skeptical.
Characteristics akin to Spanish flu also sparked vaccination campaigns during the last two flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, but neither of these outbreaks turned out to be major killers. The 1976 US swine flu epidemic – which refers to a domestic disease that kills a relatively high number of people – killed just one person. The hurried vaccine rollout however, killed 30 and cost the government $500 million in today’s money. It also led hundreds more people to contract the crippling Guillian-Barre syndrome.