A WELSH MP has raised concerns that the swine flu pandemic was exaggerated under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.
Newport West MP Paul Flynn believes the H1N1 pandemic is the latest is a long line of health scares – including Sars and new variant CJD – to be blown out of proportion.
He has welcomed a hearing next week to determine whether the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) pandemic flu declaration in June was based on “objective epidemiological evidence or on pressure from the pharmaceutical lobby”.
The left-wing Labour MP, who has tabled two motions in the House of Commons in a bid to expose “the pandemic that never was”, said: “We have had four major scares throughout the world of potential mass-killer pandemics but they have been exaggerated.
“Having cried wolf four times, if there is another occasion in the future – if there is a Spanish type of flu – the danger is no one will take it seriously.
“I believe there is a prima facie case that these scares were exaggerated and the people who have benefited from them are the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone else has lost out.”
Mr Flynn is one of 14 European politicians to sign a motion authored by German epidemiologist Wolfgang Wodarg. The motion states: “In order to promote their patented drugs and vaccines against flu, pharmaceutical companies have influenced scientists and official agencies responsible for public health standards, to alarm governments worldwide.
“They have made them squander tight health care resources for inefficient vaccine strategies and needlessly exposed millions of healthy people to the risk of unknown side-effects of insufficiently tested vaccines.”
The Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe’s social, health and family affairs committee will hold a public hearing into the handling of the H1N1 pandemic in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
It will include presentations from Dr Wodarg, the World Health Organisation and the European vaccine manufacturers.
Dr Rick Greville, director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Cymru, said: “It is quite untrue that the pharmaceutical industry – either in the UK or globally – has made any attempt to influence governments’ decisions to stockpile anti-flu drugs or order pandemic vaccine on the back of the swine flu pandemic.
“The decision to classify swine flu as a pandemic was made by WHO, a body that is fiercely independent.
“Of course, with hindsight, we now know that the number of deaths from swine flu has been – thankfully – much lower than originally feared.
“But it would have been irresponsible of WHO, of governments worldwide and the pharmaceutical industry, to play fast and loose with public health by assuming that this would be the case.”
Dr Roland Salmon, director of the communicable disease surveillance centre at the National Public Health Service for Wales, said: “We could see it as a measure of the success in containing swine flu that this line of debate is now emerging.
“It is true that we have all been surprised by how mild the symptoms have been but that’s little consolation to the relatives of those who died from it.”
And Dr Tony Jewell, Wales’ chief medical officer, said: “WHO has set criteria for when we move from one phase to another in relation to a potential flu pandemic.
“This is based on scientific evidence and is meant to act as a stimulus for governments across the world to ensure they put measures in place to mitigate any possible impact.
“I would point out that pandemic means the global spread of a new infection – it doesn’t measure the severity of the infection.
“We had to make decisions very early in the pandemic about vaccine procurement to a very tight timescale, in a very competitive market and with only modelling estimates of the population likely to get the infection, and its severity.