Scandals of State(s)
And what if financial waste were to become a scandal of state ... and of many states? By dint of retracing the trail of the anti-influenza A shots, the debate over public policies during a pandemic is being utterly transformed into a vast denunciation of the collusion between laboratories and governments. We hardly doubt that, secretly, while laying low in the shadows, lobbyists did whatever necessary to convince decision makers to buy their vaccinations in massive quantities. Did these servants of the great trusts direct, and in consequence, manipulate the conditions of purchase? The troubling facts that we are publishing [see below] contain that which should arouse our most intense scrutiny. Our questions, moreover, are now shared ... and not by just anybody! The Council of Europe's Health Commission, no less, has, in fact, just voted for an official investigation to evaluate the influence of pharmaceutical groups on governments' and even the World Health Organization's choices ...
France is on the front line. And for good reason. Since she's been in office, [French Minster of Health] Mrs. Bachelot and the members of her office, frequently accused of collusion with business circles, have rarely been short of any zeal in rolling out the red carpet for the medicine men listed on the stock exchange. Favoring "complete-vaccination," a variant of Sarkozyist "complete-security," France consequently purchased - without any transparency - far more doses of vaccine than did comparable countries. Moreover, since the summer, the government has been lying to us: the official cost, 869 million euros, is nothing but the tip of the iceberg, to which must be added the purchase of masks, publicity costs and also the exorbitant amount of expenses contributed by local governments, hospitals etc.: probably over 2 billion euros in all! Even the independence of the Groupe d'expertise et d'information sur la grippe [Group for Flu Appraisal and Information] (Geig), an official body of the Ministry of Health, arouses indignation: it is 100 percent financed by five laboratories ...
Ninety-four million doses for five million people who chose to be vaccinated: cherchez the blooper! After having conducted the matter like a Napoleonic battle, the government beats a retreat to the point of negotiating (on what conditions?) the cancellation of half the order for vaccines ... At the hour of reckoning, a wind of panic blows through the Palace. For who will have benefited from this collective hysteria? The laboratories, obviously: spending 870 millions euros on four of them was no longer a precautionary principle, but a veritable financing plan!
The main beneficiaries? GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Novartis et Sanofi-Aventis: over a billion euros of additional revenues in the fourth quarter for the GSK, between 350 and 500 millions for the two others ... Not only did the organized psychosis fill their coffers, but governments, transformed into super-sales-reps, are taking responsibility for assuring their products' resale! In a global market estimated at 600 billion dollars (it has doubled in ten years), everyone will have understood that for the laboratories the stakes resemble a trade war in which anything is allowed. Who will still dare to say that public control over these private mastodons is not an absolute necessity? The French Parliament would do well to provide itself with a commission of inquiry. And soon.
Influenza A: They Organized a Psychosis
Bruno Odent, L'Humanité
Wednesday 06 January 2010
Exposé: the president of the Council of Europe's Health Commission, German Wolfgang Wodarg, accuses pharmaceutical lobbies and governments. He has obtained the launch of an investigation by the official body he heads on the role played by laboratories in the campaign of panic around the virus. A no-holds-barred interview.
Former member of the German Socialist Party, Wolfgang Wodarg is a physician and epidemiologist. He garnered the Council of Europe's Health Commission members' unanimous consent for a commission of inquiry into the role of pharmaceutical firms in the management of H1N1 flu by the WHO and by governments ...
Bruno Odet for L'Humanité: What attracted your suspicions about laboratories' undue influence on the decisions taken with respect to influenza A?
Wolfgang Wodarg: We are faced with a failure of the great national institutions charged with alerting us to the risks and responding to them should a pandemic arise. In April, when the first alarm came from Mexico, I was very surprised by the figures the World Health Organization (WHO) was advancing to justify the proclamation of a pandemic. I had suspicions immediately: the figures were quite weak and the level of alarm very elevated. There weren't even a thousand sick people before there was already talk of the pandemic of the century. And the extreme alert decreed was based on the fact that the virus was new. But the characteristic of flu-type illnesses is to develop very fast with viruses that take on new forms each time by moving in on new hosts - animals, people etc. There's nothing new in that. A new "flu" virus of that kind appears every year. In reality, nothing justified sounding the alarm at that level. That was only possible because the WHO changed its definition of pandemic at the beginning of May. Before that date, it was not only necessary that the illness break out in several countries at once, but also that it have very serious consequences, with a number of mortalities in excess of the usual averages. That aspect was erased from the new definition, while the only criterion retained was that of the rate of the illness's diffusion. And it was alleged that the virus was dangerous because populations had not been able to develop immune defenses against it. Which was false for this virus, since we had been able to observe that people over 60 already had antibodies, which is to say that they had already been in contact with analogous viruses. That's why there were practically no people over 60 who developed the illness. Yet, they were the people it was recommended to have be rapidly vaccinated.
Among the things that aroused my suspicions then, there was on the one hand, that desire to sound the alarm - and on the other, very curious facts. Such as, for example, the WHO's recommendation to perform two injections for the vaccinations. That had never been the case before. There was no scientific justification for it. There was also this recommendation to use only specific patented vaccines. Yet, no reason existed for not adding - as is done every year - specific anti-viral particles of this new H1N1 virus, thus "completing" seasonal flu vaccines. That wasn't done because it was preferred to use patented vaccine material that the big laboratories had elaborated and manufactured to hold in readiness should a pandemic develop. And by proceeding in this fashion, they did not hesitate to put vaccinated persons in danger.
Wolfgang Wodarg: To make products quickly available, additives were used in some vaccines the effects of which had not be adequately tested. In other words: people absolutely wanted to use these new patented products instead of perfecting vaccines according to much simpler, more trustworthy and less costly traditional methods of manufacture. There was no medical reason for that - solely marketing reasons.
How were they able to justify that?
Wolfgang Wodarg: In order to understand, we must go back to the avian flu episode of 2005 - 2006. It was on that occasion that the new international plans designed to confront a pandemic alert were mapped out. Officially, those plans were elaborated to guarantee rapid manufacture of vaccine in the event of an alert. That gave rise to negotiations between the pharmaceutical firms and governments. On the one hand, the laboratories committed to hold themselves ready to develop preparations; on the other hand, governments assured the companies that they would really buy all that from them. Pursuant to this phony deal, the pharmaceutical industry took no economic risk by committing to new manufactures. And it was assured of hitting the jackpot should a pandemic break out.
You contest the established diagnoses and the seriousness, even the potential seriousness, of influenza A?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Yes, it's an altogether normal flu. It occasions only a tenth of the deaths caused by classic seasonal flu. All that mattered and all that led to the extraordinary campaign of panic we have witnessed is that it constituted a golden opportunity for lab reps who knew they'd make a mint should a pandemic be proclaimed.
These are very serious accusations you're making. How was such a process within the heart of the World Health Organization made possible?
Wolfgang Wodarg: A group of people at the WHO is very tightly associated with the pharmaceutical industry.
The Council of Europe's inquiry will also work in this direction?
Wolfgang Wodarg: We want to shed light on everything that could have yielded this incredible propaganda campaign. We want to know who decided on the basis of what scientific evidence and exactly how the pharmaceutical industry's influence was exerted in the decision making. And we must ultimately present our claims to the governments. The objective of the commission of inquiry is to assure there be no more false alarms of this type in the future, to assure that the population may rely on the analysis and the expertise of national and international public institutions. Today, those institutions are discredited because millions of people have been vaccinated with products that present possible risks to their health. That was not necessary. Also, that all led to a significant waste of public money.
Do you have concrete numbers on the scope of that waste?
Wolfgang Wodarg: In Germany, it was 700 million euros. But it's very difficult to know the precise figures because on the one hand people are talking about the resale of vaccines to foreign countries and especially because - in the name of the principle of respect for "business secrets" - companies do not communicate the amounts in contracts signed with governments and the possible compensation clauses that figure within them.
Will the Council of Europe investigation also deal with the labs' lobbying of the national institutes of health?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Yes, we shall study the attitude of the institutes, such as the Robert Koch in Germany, or the Pasteur in France, that really should have advised their governments in a critical manner. In some countries, the institutes did just that. In Finland or Poland, for example, critical voices were raised to say: "We don't need that."
Wasn't the incredible planetary propaganda operation possible also because the pharmaceutical industry had "its representative" right inside the governments of the most powerful countries?
Wolfgang Wodarg: In the ministries, that seems obvious to me. I cannot fathom how specialists, highly intelligent people who know the problem of influenza illnesses by heart, didn't notice what was going on.
What happened, then?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Without going so far as direct corruption, which I am certain does exist, there were a thousand ways for the labs to exert their influence over decisions. I have been able to establish very concretely, for example, how Klaus Stöhr, who was head of the epidemiological department at the WHO during the era of the avian flu, and who, therefore, prepared the plans designed to confront a pandemic that I mentioned earlier, became, in the meantime, a senior executive at Novartis. And similar connections exist between Glaxo, Baxter etc. and influential members of the WHO. These big firms had "their people" in the system and managed things afterwards so that the "right" political decisions were made, that is, the decisions that allowed them to pump the maximum amount of money out of the taxpayers.
But if your investigation succeeds, won't it be a prop for citizens to require that their governments demand an accounting from these big groups?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Yes, you are right; it's one of the big issues connected with this investigation. Governments could, in fact, refer to the investigation to contest contracts signed under, let us say, not very clean conditions. If it can be proved that it was the firms' undue influence that led to the onset of the process, then we must push governments until they demand to be reimbursed. But that's solely on the financial side; there's also the human side - that of people vaccinated with inadequately tested products.
What sort of risk did they unknowingly take then, these people in good health who had themselves vaccinated?
Wolfgang Wodarg: I repeat that the vaccines were developed too quickly, some additives inadequately tested. But there are more serious problems. The vaccine developed by Novartis was produced in a bioreactor from cancerous cells, a technique never used before now.
Obviously, I'm not a specialist, but how can someone make a vaccine from sick cells?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Normally, chicken eggs are used as the medium in which the viruses are grown. It's necessary, in fact, to work with live cells, since the virus can multiply in that way only and consequently, by definition, the anti-viral preparations that go with them. But that procedure presents a major flaw; it's slow; it requires many eggs. And it is long and complex on a technical level. Another technique with remarkable potential consists of growing the viruses on living cells in bioreactors. Cells that grow and divide very quickly are required for that. That's approximately the procedure that is used to culture yogurt, which is also made in bioreactors, but in this context the cell has been so disrupted in its environment and its growth that it grows like a cancerous cell. And it's on those high-yield cells that the virus is cultivated. Only to manufacture the vaccine, it is necessary to extract the viruses from those cells into which they have been implanted. And. consequently, it may happen that during the process of manufacturing the vaccine, residues from the cancerous cell remain in the preparation, as happens in the classic manufacture with eggs. So, we know that in the case of a vaccination against classic flu, secondary effects may appear in people allergic to the egg albumin found in egg whites. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that protein remains of a cancerous cell present in a vaccine manufactured in a bioreactor give rise to a tumor in the vaccinated person. According to the true precautionary principle, therefore, it should have been necessary before such a product be authorized for commercial use to be 100 percent certain that such effects are actually out of the question.
And that wasn't done?
Wolfgang Wodarg: That was not done. The EMA (European Medicines Agency), an institution based in London under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for the Economy, which gives the authorizations for putting vaccines on the market in Europe, gave its green light for the commercialization of this product, arguing, that, in this case, this manufacturing method did not constitute a "significant" risk. That was evaluated quite differently by numerous specialists here in Germany and by an independent medicine institution: they, on the contrary, raised the alarm and communicated their objections. I took those warnings seriously. I studied the file and intervened within the framework of the Bundestag Health Committee, to which I then belonged, so that the vaccine not be used in Germany. I made it known that I was certainly not opposed to the development of vaccines using that technique, but that it was first of all necessary to guarantee total harmlessness. So, the product was not used in Germany where the government rescinded the contract with Novartis.
What is the name of this vaccine?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Obta flu.
But that means that in other European countries such as France the product may be sold without any problem?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Yes, it obtained EMA authorization and may consequently be used throughout the European Union.
What alternative do you intend to promote so that we escape new scandals of this kind?
Wolfgang Wodarg: The WHO should have to be more transparent so that we clearly know who decides and what kind of relationship exists between the participants in the organization. It would also be appropriate that the WHO at least be supported by an elected chamber, able to react very critically and in which everyone is free to express themselves. This strengthening of public control is indispensable.
But isn't the issue one of another system able to handle a question that in fact relates to the common welfare of all citizens of the planet?
Wolfgang Wodarg: Can we continue to leave the production of vaccines and the conduct of that production to organizations, the objective of which is to earn the most money possible? Or is not the production of vaccines a public domain issue par excellence that governments must control and implement themselves? That's why I think we must abandon the system of patents for vaccines, that is to say, the possibility of some big group monopolizing vaccine production. For that possibility presupposes the sacrifice of thousands of human lives, simply in the name of respect for those monopolistic rights. You are right, that particular demand has taken on - for me, in any case - the aspect of an obvious fact.