Swine Flu Didn’t Fly

Journalist and author William Engdahl has made it his mission to focus on one WHO expert in particular, Dr. Albert Osterhaus. Osterhaus sat on the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), which made strategic decisions regarding swine flu. Osterhaus is linked to “every major virus panic of the past decade, from the mysterious SARS … [to] publicizing dangers of what he claimed was H5N1 Avian Flu,” and even to swine flu, Engdahl reported.

On October 16, Science magazine said this about Osterhaus:

“For the past 6 months, one could barely switch on the television in the Netherlands without seeing the face of famed virus hunter Albert Osterhaus talking about the swine flu pandemic. Or so it has seemed. Osterhaus, who runs an internationally renowned virus lab at Erasmus Medical Center, has been Mr. Flu. But last week, his reputation took a nosedive after it was alleged that he has been stoking pandemic fears to promote his own business interests in vaccine development.”

A Science blog from November 3 said Osterhaus had emerged from the investigation unscathed.

Russian lawmaker, Igor Barinov, chairman of the Duma Health Committee, recently launched an investigation into corrupt relations between the WHO and the pharmaceutical industry. If the investigation confirms allegations against the WHO, Barinov said Russia should withdraw from the WHO.

A similar scheme for potential corruption is present at the CDC. On June 8, just a few days before the WHO declared swine flu a pandemic, the CDC was taken over by Dr. Thomas Frieden. Prior, Frieden had been the top health official in New York City and worked overseas for the WHO. In both capacities, he was an active proponent of mass vaccinations against tuberculosis. Under Frieden’s direction, the CDC announced a hefty vaccine-based response to the virus and outlined a distribution effort that some doctors say constitutes the largest vaccine experiment ever on pregnant women.

The former CDC director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, was hired by Merck in December to serve as president of the vaccine department. While in charge of the CDC, Gerberding came under intense criticism for bonuses she gave to employees who worked closely with her. And during the Bush presidency, Gerberding oversaw a drastic, multi-year revamping process at the CDC in which dozens of the organization’s most respected experts quit their jobs.

The Washington Post reported on August 31, 2004, that a number of CDC officials thought the restructuring plan was “part of a larger administration effort to politicize science.” In one organizational shift, vaccine safety was moved out of the domain of the National Immunization Program.

Robert A. Keegan, a high-level official, circulated a memo among the CDC’s top leaders in which he revealed that employees who disagreed with official data had been “cowed into silence,” the Post reported on March 6, 2005. Margaret Scarlett, who spent 15 years in the Centers’ AIDS program before leaving in 2001, was quoted as saying, “Political ideology is being substituted for science.”

A possible source of monetary influence by drug makers is the CDC Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which raises money for the CDC’s efforts through private donations.

Whatever the means, clearly the capacity and incentive for drug makers to lean on science are enormous.

Pandemic Profit

All US contracts for H1N1 vaccines went to just five companies: CSL Limited, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline and MedImmune. All five also produced shots for either SARS or avian flu. When the response to swine flu took full flight in the second and third quarters of 2009, these firms’ earnings skyrocketed. But according to British MP, Paul Flynn, that was part of the drug makers’ plan. Prior to winning any contracts, drug makers invested $4 billion in preparations for swine flu, he said. That investment may have gone to developing and patenting new, super-fast methods to create vaccines, such as using a bioreactor to grow viruses, said Dr. Wodarg. These patents were key to drug industry profits, since companies can charge much more for patented drugs than unpatented ones, Wodarg said.

“If you have a patent you can monopolize … and this is what industry did: Invented a fast way to produce vaccines and had it patented, which is much more expensive … The alternative is not to have vaccines patented … By decentralizing the production you could be as fast and you wouldn’t have this small way you have to pass negotiating with one enterprise that has monopoly, or with four enterprises. It’s the economic dimension of the problem which we have to have in mind as we consider how this all happened.”

Food and drug agencies in Canada, the UK, France, the US, and elsewhere guaranteed vaccine manufacturers that they would be shielded from any lawsuits connected to the vaccines. This enabled companies to fast track the testing process, reducing some trials to as little as five days.

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