PharmaView: The Great Swine Flu Conspiracy: The Plots Thicken

March 8, 2010
Was it wrong to be prepared and a bit lucky?

The Great Swine Flu Pandemic never quite materialized. Ah, so we’ve all been duped by the Great Swine Flu Conspiracy? It’s as simple as that, to hear some tell it. In fact, the only thing that’s viral regarding H1N1 is the spread of conspiracy theories.

Their targets are the usual suspects, like the U.S. government, which wants to divert our attention from wars and economic woes: President Obama made a state visit to Mexico City, and within a week schools closed and panic reigned.

Governments in general are not to be trusted, goes another line of thinking—here’s something from the fear-mongering “Could world governments, spooked by the prospect of radical climate change caused by over-population of the planet, have assembled a super-secret task force to engineer and distribute a super virulent strain of influenza designed to ‘correct’ the human population (and institute global Martial Law)? Technically, it's possible. The U.S. military, all by itself, has the know-how to engineer and unleash such a virus.”

There are plenty of other conspirators under suspicion in cyberspace—CNN, immigrants, Donald Rumsfeld, and even (attention Dan Brown fans) the Illuminati can’t escape the shadow of culpability for engineering this “textbook” scare.

Okay, some of this stuff is worth a good chuckle and gets little traction among serious citizens of the world. But the theories that do seem to resonate are those that point the finger at big corporations—e.g., James Ridgeway, a senior correspondent at “There are winners as well as losers in every high-profile outbreak of infectious disease. First and foremost among them, of course, is Big Pharma, which can always be counted on to have its hand out wherever human misery presents an opportunity to rake in some cash.”

Granted, Big Pharma has had its share of issues, and raked in its share of cash, but in the case of the swine flu it’s an all too easy poster child for greed and profiteering. (And what of those conniving manufacturers of surgical masks and hand sanitizers, who made off like bandits?) As if it’s unreasonable for drug companies to expect revenue for developing critical medicines. As if shareholders won’t demand some guarantees in return for the risk.

Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, German President of the Health Committee of the Council of Europe, has done more than anyone to fan the flames of a grand Big Pharma plot. Wodarg has stated, "All that mattered and that led to the great campaign of panic which we have seen was that it was a golden opportunity for representatives from labs who knew they would hit the jackpot in the case of a pandemic being declared."

How could the World Health Organization allow such a thing to happen? That's easy, the doctor says. People in WHO are "associated very closely" with people in the pharmaceutical industry. (Shouldn’t they be?) 

Most conspiracy theories are taken with a grain of salt, and some of them do have a grain of truth. But in this case they’re insulting. The response of drug companies, regulators, and health workers to the swine flu threat in many ways has been remarkable. Effective vaccines were developed, manufactured, and disseminated with unprecedented speed.

Many of you reading this did your part, putting in overtime or weekend work, or restructuring your daily duties to help ramp up research, production and packaging of H1N1 vaccines. If so, you deserve kudos and compensation.

And let’s not forget just how uneasy we all were. In response to critics, WHO recently recounted the many factors that were at play a year ago, notably that the virus was spreading like wildfire: in nine countries at the end of April 2009, in 74 countries by mid-June, and 120 countries by the start of July. Who knew what to expect? Not WHO. Not us.

Rest assured, there will be serious and lengthy discussions among manufacturers, scientists, and policymakers about how they responded to this pandemic, so that we may all be better prepared for the future. The most pressing problem: The H1N1 vaccine was to be available on time to those who needed it, and in many cases it wasn’t. There were other hiccups as well, but let's not question the motives of those who addressed the swine flu head on.

What’s to explain the Great Swine Flu Pandemic that never really was, then? According to a recent article in Nature, it is this: we were lucky. “The danger now,” the article says, “is that last year's relatively mild pandemic will create a false sense of security and complacency." We can only hope that when the next pandemic comes, we’ll put conspiracy theories aside once again.

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Senior Editor