The pandemic that never was: Drug firms 'encouraged world health body to exaggerate swine flu threat'
By FIONA MACRAE
Last updated at 11:49 PM on 4th June 2010
Declaring a swine flu pandemic was a 'monumental error', driven by profit-hungry drug companies spreading fear, an influential report has concluded.
It led to huge amounts of taxpayers' money being wasted in stockpiling vaccines, it added.
Paul Flynn, the Labour MP charged with investigating the handling of the swine flu outbreak for the Council of Europe, described it as 'a pandemic that never really was'.
The report accuses the World Health Organisation of grave shortcomings in the transparency of the process that led to its warning last year.
The MP said that the world relied on the WHO, but after 'crying wolf', its reputation was in jeopardy.
The report questions whether the pandemic was driven by drug companies seeking a profit. Mr Flynn said predictions of a 'plague' that would wipe out up to 7.5million people proved to be 'an exaggeration', with fewer than 20,000 deaths worldwide.
Britain braced itself for up to 65,000 deaths and signed vaccine contracts worth £540million.
The actual number of deaths was fewer than 500 and the country is now desperately trying to unpick the contracts and unload millions of unused jabs.
The focus on swine flu also led to other health services suffering and widespread public fear.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, profited to the tune of £4.6billion from the sale of vaccines alone.
Mr Flynn said: 'There is not much doubt that this was an exaggeration on stilts. They vastly over-stated the danger on bad science and the national governments were in a position where they had to take action.
'In Britain, we have spent at least £1billion on preparations, to the detriment of other parts of the health system. This is a monumental failure on the WHO's part.'
The Council of Europe inquiry heard allegations that the WHO had downgraded its definition for declaring a pandemic last spring - just weeks before announcing there was a worldwide outbreak.
Critics said the decision to remove any need to consider the deadliness of the disease was driven by drug companies desperate to recoup the billions of pounds they had invested in developing pandemic vaccines after the bird flu scares.
But the WHO said its basic definition of a pandemic never changed.
Mr Flynn said: 'It doesn't make any sense as to why they should have changed the definition a month before declaring an outbreak.
'In this case, it might not just be a conspiracy theory, it might be a very profitable conspiracy.'
A Daily Mail investigation earlier this year revealed more than half of the swine flu taskforce advising the Government on its strategy had ties to drug companies.
Eleven of the 20 members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies had done work for the pharmaceutical industry or are linked to it through their universities.
Concerns about drug companies' influence are also highlighted by a separate investigation by the British Medical Journal and the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
It found that key scientists behind the WHO's advice on stockpiling pandemic flu pills such as Tamiflu had financial ties with the drug companies that stood to profit. The WHO last night firmly rejected all the criticism.
Spokesman Gregory Hartl said: 'There is no question of this being a fake pandemic. If fits the criteria for a pandemic, which is a new virus to which human beings have little or no immunity and which has spread around the world.
'It spread from zero to 74 countries in the space of 9 weeks - that's a pandemic.'
He said that not all ties to drug companies were necessarily conflicts of interest.
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