Swine flu - real or just a scam?

Is swine flu really dangerous or is it a media beat up, a corporate scam to sell $1billion worth of vaccines? Can public policy driven by shock jocks and their scare campaigns ever be good for anybody except corporate profits?

It has been a while since we had our last major health scare. It seems that every so often a health crisis appears that only the spending of $100s of millions of public money for the vaccination of a naive and panicked population seems to work to alleviate the symptoms.

Remember SARS that was meant to do a repeat of the Spanish Flu that killed 20 million post WW1? Then bird flu was meant to be the modern day Spanish Flu, and countless millions, possibly billions of chickens where buried alive to contain the virus. In Bird Flu, Little To Fear, Dr Sherri Tenpenny refers to the huge death toll from the Spanish flu as being related to the chemical warfare of WW1 that had resulted in dioxin poisoning in Spain and southern Europe, destroying people’s immune systems and rendering them vulnerable to a new strain of flu. See  Bird Flu, Little to Fear

Then of course horse flu hit and the racing industry hit the panic button, regardless of horse flu being quite common elsewhere and not such a big deal - so a horse gets a flu and has to chill out for a while just like people - what is the big deal? Certainly in the US it has not ended the racing industry. I found it odd at the time that NSW horses were unable to race in Victoria, nor any horse cross any border in Australia, yet foreign horses were allowed to fly in from Asia or Europe where horse flu is common. It was also interesting that the larger outbreaks of horse flu actually occurred in larger stables where all horses were vaccinated.

In the middle of this was an outbreak of meningococcal disease which seemed far more serious inasmuch as people died, lost limbs or had their lives destroyed. $100 million was spent on a vaccination program that, according to a Sydney Morning Herald article (no onger online) in 2007, had zero impact on the incidence of infections.

Now we have swine flu, from which one person in the entire world outside of the US, has died, and there is talk in Australia of cancelling public gatherings such as sporting events to limit the speread of this apparently very dangerous disease. Perhaps the next step might be the cancel public transport, or elevator travel, or closing shopping malls.

The Federal Government has ordered 10 million doses of Tamiflu, the flu vaccine that may or may not have any relation to the swine flu virus and may or may not have any impact on infections, regardless of the argument about the efficacy of vaccinations generally. I have also started to notice the odd casual and very understated insertion into news reports on swine flu of compulsory vaccination being introduced.

Our media reports are full of some grave announcement of the imminent destruction of our lifestyles and our society, while every now and again some doctor or researcher goes on the record to rubbish the beat up over Swine flu. Local doctors are bemused at all the fuss, as Swine flu does not appear as dangerous as normal flu.

It is interesting to notice how public policy is created in a society like ours. First of all someone in the media discovers something about, for example, swine flu. They then ask the health department or the minister what is being done in Australia to protect us from swine flu. The minister then announces that everything possible will be done, because to say otherwise would leave the government open to charges of being irresponsible in terms of looking after the health of the children and the vulnerable.

Each day as the minister is questioned he/she ratchets up the rhetoric and the promises as they are backed into a corner from which there is no retreat. Finally a decision is made to buy 10 million doses of tamiflu which may or may not work but is the only vaccine available that might do the job that a vaccine is supposed to do, prevent subsequent infections. Given that a vaccine can cost anywhere between $50 and $150 each dose, we are talking about quite a lot of money that will flow into the coffers of the maker of tamiflu.  

One wonders how much the makers of Tamiflu have donated or have promised to donate to the Labour Party on the back of this major order, or how much their advertising budget has just increased with certain key media outlets. For example, if Tamiflu makers, or a corporation that has strong connections with same, choose to advertise heavily in a particular news outlet and they choose to give the swine flu story more air than it would otherwise warrant, then the other outlets will give it more air just to compete and show that they too are responsible media, and before too long media outlets are competing with each other to see who can report on the musings of the latest marginal scientist spelling out doom.

If any politician casts any doubt upon the danger posed by swine flu the same media will ensure his or her image will be forever tarnished and their political career may be over.

Recently there was a story on TV about bird flu and how it was still sitting over society like the Sword of Damocles, and they showed a graph showing that in Indonesia last year 40 people had died from bird flu while in Thailand the number was 25, and that any minute now it will spread all over Asia and kill millions. Given that some hundreds of thousands of Indonesians die from any number of causes every year, this seems just silly. Probably more people died last year from falling out of bed!

And of course, even though and maybe even because there is so much crying wolf, one day there may in fact be a dangerous epidemic that we need to take immediate and drastic action to prevent the spread of. The problem is that fewer and fewer people are believing the media driven hype that sells newspapers and when it is important that we pay attention we will all have tuned out completely.

June 15/09

See also Swine Flu Vaccinations published Sept 09

Related to - Health | Health news

By Mark O'Brien

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