The thing about pandemics is that they don’t always pan out. If they rated pandemics on a scale of 1 to 10 (which they don’t), how far down on the scale before it’s hardly a pandemic? How high on the scale and people blame the medical community for failing to raise enough warning? Every time there is a potential pandemic, the health agencies involved – local, regional, national, and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) – have to make educated guesses about, first, if the potential pandemic is real and, second, how severe it might be.
Then these educated guesses need to be turned into properly phrased public statements and a sequence of appropriate steps. The risks of mistakes are substantial, either by overestimating the potential, or worse, underestimating it. If overestimated, then money will be wasted, people will have been unduly alarmed, there will be official inquiries. If underestimated, many more people will die, survivors will be furious, and there will be accusations and legal proceedings against those who made the estimations. Guess which side of estimation public health officials tend to favor?
Everybody concerned would rather call it just right. Unfortunately, pandemics are by nature global, multifaceted, variable, and to a degree unpredictable. Most pandemics are dangerous and put a strain on medical resources; but most are less than catastrophic. Some are actually non-starters, they either don’t become global, or they affect a non-critical number of people. One of these days, there will be a pandemic (or a potential for one) that will be as bad as or worse than the infamous 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 50-100 million people. Estimating the nature and severity of a potential pandemic remains fraught.
Then there is the ‘cry wolf’ syndrome. How many times can health agencies proclaim ‘pandemic’ and nothing extraordinarily bad happens, before the general public begins to assume any such declaration is an exaggeration? How about the avian flu, followed by the swine flu – is that enough?
Then there is the media amplification loop. It has a natural tendency to amplify danger. It’s more dramatic, and drama gets more attention, and attention garners advertising…and so forth. How long before any declaration about pandemic is automatically over-hyped?
All of the above ingredients are in the mix every time a pandemic is announced.
Add one more thing: There will be an irresistible temptation to expound on the nature of a pandemic (good calls, bad calls, all the effects) long before the statistics are available, or even before the pandemic is finally and truly over. That’s what’s happening now. The peak of the H1N1 is barely over, and this may be only the first round, but the accusations are already flying. Specifically, Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, a relatively high profile accuser surfaced in Europe with charges that the WHO, in concert with pharmaceutical companies, overplayed the H1N1 danger in order to sell vaccines. Here’s a sample of the language used:
In order to promote their patented drugs and vaccines against flu, pharmaceutical companies influenced scientists and official agencies, responsible for public health standards to alarm governments worldwide and make them squander tight health resources for inefficient vaccine strategies and needlessly expose millions of healthy people to the risk of an unknown amount of side-effects of insufficiently tested vaccines.
The “birds-flu”-campaign (2005/06) combined with the “swine-flu”-campaign seem to have caused a great deal of damage not only to some vaccinated patients and to public health-budgets, but to the credibility and accountability of important international health-agencies.
The Council of Europe and its member-states should ask for immediate investigations and consequences on their national levels as well as on the international level.
[Source: Wodarg website]
Accusations of conspiracy tend to rely on inference rather than evidence, especially when calling for inquiry (presumably to uncover evidence). In this case, there is enough doubt about the actions of the WHO and other health agencies to warrant an inquiry by the European Parliament. Whether the parliament is responding to the call from Dr. Wodarg and associates, the level of media coverage or genuine concern is unknown. Nevertheless, the WHO has been put on the defensive, officially issuing denials of collusion with industry.
For the most part, in Europe the criticism of pandemic vaccination is not connected to total rejection of vaccination. This may not be the case in the United States, if and when the issue is put into the U.S. media amplification system.
Dealing with the reality of potential or ongoing pandemics is very difficult. The science involved can be painstakingly slow and sometimes uncertain. The impact of a real pandemic can be catastrophic, but whether that will happen or not is rarely certain. Now must be added the climate of acceptance – or non-acceptance – of the calls for vaccination against a pandemic. It may become a combination of ‘cry wolf’ syndrome and people’s natural disinclination to have injections. Somewhere in this mix is a possible tipping point, the point where not enough people will be vaccinated (presuming vaccine is available) and a pandemic goes out of control.