WHO and Big Pharma Scandal

Recently, I was sent an article on a set of reports sponsored by the Council of Europe regarding the WHO’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic. The same article, written with bigger words, appeared in the British Medical Journal. The article, as written, accuses members of the WHO of receiving massive kickbacks from pharma companies to construct a false pandemic in order to generate billions in profits from the sales of vaccines and anti-viral medications. Specifically, three scientists at the WHO responsible for drawing up guidelines advising governments to stockpile medications had previously received compensation from private pharmaceutical companies, (Roche and GSK) for other, unrelated consultancy work. It appears that the WHO damned these three scientists by not openly providing conflict of interest statements to the general public. The WHO maintains that it keeps confidential conflict of interest statements on file for all members of a meeting to discuss vaccine usage in pandemics. The WHO has since released a document recognizing the inadequacy of its present protocols for public disclosure.

I found this interesting and it brought the whole conversation home:

“Dr Arnold Monto was the author of the WHO annex dealing with vaccine usage in pandemics. Between 2000 and 2004, and at the time of writing the annex, Monto had openly declared consultancy fees and research support from Roche and GSK. No conflict of interest statement was included in the annex published by the WHO.”

Dr. Monto is a faculty member of the School of Public Health at UM. Knowing Dr. Monto, I find it highly doubtful that he was receiving large kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies to fabricate a pandemic to increase his pocket book. In fact, Arnold Monto’s consultancy for GSK can be known from a simple Google search! The BMJ reports that he received $3000. yes, $3000. Not $3,000,000. $3000. Dr. Arnold Monto and a fabricated global pandemic can be bought for the paltry sum of $3000.

The otherwise somewhat reliable Washington Post has taken purely circumstantial evidence and reported it as damning fact, generating fodder for every brainless and fanatic conspiracy hack on both sides of the politically extreme spectrum. Basically, the “evidence” supporting a conspiracy, is akin to saying that I am a tax evader because the UM knows all my tax information, yet does not release it to the public.

The report from the Council of Europe was engineered by a MP Paul Flynn, who conveniently keeps a regular blog where he has posted articles that call into question his own claims, prompting one to wonder if he actually reads what he posts. Indeed, the man even seems to be willing to ride with the anti-vac batshit brigade:

“In Australia there are claims that the flu vaccines are causing fits in young children. The swine flu vaccine had limited trials and GSK wanted the Polish Government to take responsibility for any adverse reactions. They refused.”

It is clear that not only is Mr. Flynn’s ability to read the English language in question, but he is also deficient in his understanding of influenza and influenza vaccines. He repeatedly notes that “only” 18,000 people have died. Of course, he does not specify whether this number is world wide or in the UK. He conveniently fails to mention that that is 18,000 above the regular number of influenza related deaths in addition to ignoring that much of that 18,000 were children and young adults. On top of that, he fails to present any number of hospitalizations due to H1N1, which, again, would be above and beyond the number due to regular seasonal flus. To make things even worse, he fails to recognize that his “small number” would be much bigger without large scale immunization strategies. Perhaps, he should go back in time, stop the H1N1 vaccination programs from occurring and then go and tell all the parents of all the extra kids who died that it was all a hoax.

I write this, not in defense of the WHO, but in criticism of the ubiquity of uninformed and preposterous popular news articles regarding influenza and vaccination programs. I am not for a second going to deny that the WHO does not have connections to pharma and that the potential for corruption does not exist. I am positive that decisions made at the WHO are made with pharma companies in mind and some level corruption does, in fact, exist. However, the manner in which Mr. Flynn and company try to suggest a large level conspiracy smacks more of ignorance that whistle blowing.

Corruption between big pharma and health organizations should be rooted out where necessary but the relationship between pharmaceutical producers and health providers is admittedly complex. One cannot exist without the other. However, I also believe that the H1N1 pandemic has the potential to present a significant threat to the health and welfare of all susceptible people and, given it’s predilection to hospitalize and kill the young and healthy, health organizations and governments should maintain exceptionally high levels of vigilance to safely minimize morbidity and mortality. The greatest failing of the H1N1 campaign was that not enough people died in the developed world to satisfy the general public. If millions had, in fact, died (as in 1918), then we would be seeing people like Mr. Flynn happily patting himself on the back for a job well done. However, in public health, particularly in vaccination programs, success is measured by nothing happening.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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