by A. Kronstadt
We must always be aware that when professional purveyors of information such as governments and corporations tell us something, it is for their own reasons. You are not going to get an objective assessment of the dangers of a little-known virus from bureaucrats, executives, or scientists who are heavily invested, financially as well as scientifically, in a hypothetical vaccine for that virus. They may or may not necessarily lie to us in every given instance, but they will certainly make maximum use of the speculative aspects of the situation. Research into bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is presently taking place mainly on a speculative level.
Is 2006 the Next 1918?
Everyone has heard that in 1918, amidst the chaos of World War I and its consequent population displacements and troop movements, a great influenza pandemic arose. The disease, which continued to spread through the beginning of 1920, was popularly called the Spanish Flu in the United States because of the myth that it had spread from Spain; scientists variously point to the trenches of France, India, China, and even the U.S. itself as the epicenter of the pandemic.
Without antibiotics, people succumbed to the bacterial pneumonia that attacked people whose lungs had been compromised by the influenza. The war had also brought about a wave of malnutrition in various parts of the world and hunger worked hand-in-hand with the influenza virus to end the lives of some 20 million people. Extrapolations are being made from these figures based on the present world population putting possible deaths in a pandemic of influenza caused by the avian flu in the hundreds of millions.
At present, the number of humans who have so far died from bird flu is only in the hundreds, and the people who have caught it have gotten it from birds and not from other humans. However, even though the pandemic virus, which would have to transmit from human to human in an efficient manner, does not exist yet, Big Pharmaceuticals and government bureaucracy are latching onto these extrapolations to panic society into putting vast resources into vaccines that may or may not protect against any eventual human version of the virus.
The Speculative Vaccine: Does Big Pharma Have the Answer?
The purpose of a vaccine is to cause the human immune system to develop antibodies to defend us against a specific microbial invader. If the identity of the invader is vague, any vaccine against it will be of uncertain usefulness in protecting us against it. For example, a reliable human vaccine against the feared avian influenza strain H5N1 cannot be developed until it fully transforms itself from a bird to a human virus itself, and there is no fully human version of the bird flu virus at this time. The avian influenza virus strain H5N1 is still a bird disease spreading via infected poultry, poultry products and contaminated items associated with the industry in and around factory-type establishments where birds are imprisoned in order to provide eggs and meat for human consumption. The scientific community in general admits that any vaccine against such a bird virus may or may not work against future versions of the virus that have mutated to specifically spread among humans.
In 1997, the first cases of bird-to-human transmission of H5N1 were observed in areas of Southeast Asia where both factory-scale and small-scale farming of chickens and ducks are central to the economy. Since then, there have been more than 121 human cases, with an approximate 50% fatality rate. The patients were all people who had lived or worked in close proximity to poultry or poultry derivatives, and there is no evidence at this time that the virus has been transmitted from one human to another, like the common humanized strains of the flu that people catch all over the world.
H5N1 is transmitted to poultry workers and their family members, and to pigs, which are ubiquitous in the countryside of China, Vietnam, and Thailand, where the disease has also spread to humans. In all of the above-mentioned species, we are told that the virus is mutating, and it is only a matter of time before the germ becomes fully adapted to the pigs and to the humans and acquires the ability to spread among members of both of these species, as well as among the birds. It is then, so the authorities tell us, that the disease will reach pandemic status and there will be mass fatalities, because we will have less innate immunity to a newly-mutated virus than we do to the regular strains to which we are exposed on a daily basis. There is a Catch-22 here: it will only be after the disease starts spreading from human to human, probably in some urban context, that development of a truly reliable vaccine can even start, because only then will there be a specific virus against which to make the vaccine, just as there are vaccines against the common strains of flu that spread through big cities in the winter.
This has not prevented pharmaceutical companies from taking billions of dollars from the government to stockpile “pre-pandemic” vaccines against the virus strains that have affected the hundred or so humans that have so far caught the disease from birds, on the assumption that it will be this strain and no other that will become pandemic. Chiron Pharmaceuticals of Emeryville, CA, claims that its vaccine against the H5 part of the virus will be sufficient to immunize against any of the possible mutants that will start transmitting from human to human. The pharmaceutical giant announced on Oct. 27, 2005, that it had obtained a $62.5 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to supply the U.S. government with pre-pandemic stockpile of the bird flu vaccine. A month prior to Chiron’s announcement, HHS announced that it had awarded a $100 million contract to Sanofi Pasteur, the U.S. offshoot of the French drug conglomerate of that same name, to make and stockpile a pre-pandemic vaccine to protect against one of the virus strains currently passing from bird to human.
Chiron’s record in regard to health and safety has been less than sterling. In August of 2004, contamination by a bacterium, Serratia marcescens, often associated with hospital-acquired infections in patients, delayed shipment of a conventional flu vaccine in the U.S. and resulted in the suspension of Chiron’s license to produce the vaccine at its plant in Liverpool, U.K.
Scientists are by no means unanimous in assessing the value of these pre-pandemic vaccines. In early 2006, when the H5N1 strain has been detected in migratory wild bird populations and lurking silently in apparently healthy birds, focus has been on the opportunities that the virus has had to mutate. There are now four distinct varieties of H5N1, and the variety that can be transmitted from human to human could arise from any one. Therefore, according to Dr. Malik Peris in a report published Feb. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, emphasis has to be on broad cross-protection, rather than on a single vaccine.
Virus of Profiteering: Rumsfeld and Tamiflu
The money allotted to Chiron and Sanofi Pasteur is only part of the $1.2 billion in discretionary funding granted by Congress to President George W. Bush for the production of 20 million doses of pre-pandemic vaccine, which is, in turn, only part of the $.7.1 billion in avian flu emergency funds, all of which is to be spent at Bush’s own discretion. That package also includes $2 billion to stockpile advanced antiviral drugs for the treatment of people already infected or exposed, the best known of which is Tamiflu, manufactured by the Swiss pharmaceutical corporation Roche. Tamiflu, whose generic name is oseltamavir, is a DNA-like compound that combines with and “clogs up” an enzyme essential to the reproduction of the flu virus and thereby stops the germ’s transmission from cell to cell. Roche leases the patent for Tamiflu from Gilead Sciences, a research and development firm in Foster City, CA, specializing in “small-molecule therapeutics” including antivirals such as Viread, used in AIDS therapy, and Hepsera, used in the treatment of hepatitis B, as well as Tamiflu. From 1997 until the beginning of 2001, when he was tapped by President Bush for the job of Secretary of Defense, Donald H, Rumsfeld served as chairman of the board of Gilead Sciences.
Rummy, who has served in dozens of high corporate posts between government jobs, resigned his post at Gilead when he took the Bush cabinet position, and pledged to recuse himself from any government decisions involving his “former” company. However, Rumsfeld still holds somewhere between $5 million and $25 million in Gilead stock. Gilead is a low-profile company that does little manufacturing on its own; for example, it collects royalties from Roche for the rights to Tamiflu, but, technically speaking, is not the commercial supplier for the drug. When the Pentagon, under Rumsfeld’s tutelage, purchased $58 million worth of the antiviral for use by military physicians, Rummy had plausible deniability in saying that he had recused himself from dealings directly involving Gilead as a party in the legal sense of the word. But in reality, his equity in the Gilead stock has been swelled by the royalties paid by Roche out of the money paid to them by the government. Gilead stock has increased in value by at least 500% since 2001, from $7 per share to $54 per share, and has undergone a surge from $35 to $54 a share over a few weeks at the height of the big bird flu panic.
In November of 2005, Gilead defeated Roche in a federal lawsuit and won the right to terminate the latter company’s license for Tamiflu. It will be interesting to note who the next licensee will be and how much of the Bush administration’s discretionary funding they will end up with.
In May, 2004, in response to clinical findings that included the deaths of at least two patients, Japanese health officials ordered that neurological symptoms, including impaired consciousness, abnormal behaviors, and hallucinations, be added to the list of possible side effects associated with Tamiflu, A.K.A. oseltamivir. Japanese physicians reported an additional 64 cases of neurological complications from the drug that led to hospitalization, plus the deaths of an additional ten pediatric patients from other non-neurological side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refused to beef up its warnings in response to the Japanese data, stating that since the patients were suffering from influenza, there was no way of knowing whether it was the oseltamivir or the influenza virus itself that led to any particular death. The FDA stated that symptoms of such side effects had not yet turned up in the U.S. Up to this point, Japan has been the place where Tamiflu has been most heavily tested, with 34 million doses prescribed, so we may have to wait until the drug has become that widespread in the U.S. before we have enough data to confirm or contradict the Japanese studies in a statistically significant manner.
Dr. Frist, the Cat Killer’s “Government Knows Best” Act
Such safety statistics may not even be available to the consumer under legislation now winding its way through the Senate. Senate Bill 1873, The Bio-defense Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act, sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, provides for the creation of a government agency to deal with health emergencies, called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), which would be the first government agency ever created with an a priori exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The bill states: “Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code [Freedom of Information Act], unless the Secretary [of Health] or Director [of BARDA] determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security. Such a determination shall not be subject to judicial review.”
Why would legislators ostensibly concerned with transparency and openness be so interested in creating an agency specifically exempt from disclosing information, for example, regarding bacterial contamination of a vaccine or the side effects of a drug like Tamiflu? Although Senate Bill 1873 does not specifically address the subject of forced vaccination or drugging, by removing liability when things go wrong, it gives more ammunition to authoritarian health officials who believe that the only way to fight disease is with sweeping, mandatory vaccination.
Does Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee heart-transplant surgeon and co-founder of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the largest private operator of health care services in the world, really have national security in mind when he wants to make certain health information classified, thereby granting immunity and impunity to all of those involved in any possibly faulty decision-making process? Frist is currently being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection with a an order that he gave to sell all of his shares in HCA just two weeks before the stock fell 15 points. Frist also has a long history of shady dealings in the name of Big Medicine that perhaps started when he was a medical student at Harvard in the 1970s and took cats out of shelters on the pretext of adopting them, only to bring them to the labs at the medical school and practice heart surgery upon them, leading to the eventual deaths of the animals. Perhaps that is why he is so enthusiastic about the veil of secrecy that Senate Bill 1873 provides to duplicitous doctors.
Meanwhile, even though it is still a bird virus and not a human one, the avian flu virus strain H5N1 has already demonstrated resistance to Tamiflu. The World Health Organization has reported that a girl in Vietnam under treatment with oseltamivir for an apparent poultry transmitted infection showed high-level resistance to the antiviral. Many other cases of resistance by more common, human-transmitted versions of the virus have been reported.
To Hell With Their Poison
The issue for those of us who are not big stockholders in pharmaceutical companies seems to be whether we are willing to allow people to stick needles into our bodies and inject us with substances that, under certain circumstances, have been associated with the transmission of diseases, such as the above-mentioned Serratia bacteria and possibly worse.
All “attenuated” vaccines against the flu virus contain actual virus-derived materials and have been associated with flu-like reactions in a certain percentage of those vaccinated. Particularly when pressured to stretch out a limited amount of vaccine, pharmaceutical companies often mix in “adjuvants,” any number of chemical agents intended to enhance the immune response, often at the expense of greater irritation and in some cases, the formation of unstable scar tissue around the injection site associated with subsequent sarcomas and other cancers. It is not necessarily a question of how many people actually end up suffering from the after-effects of vaccinations, because even if it is only a fraction of a percentage, individuals have the right to decide how much risk they will expose themselves to.
Swine Flu and Swine Government
The example of the kind of physician-disseminated disaster that can result from blind reliance on vaccines is demonstrated by the “swine flu” scare of 1976, after two military recruits at Fort Dix, NJ, became infected with a strain of flu (H1N1) normally seen only in pigs and which then seemed to be spreading to humans. H1N1 had similar identifying traits to the virus believed to have disseminated in the influenza pandemic after World War I, which killed millions of people. Then-President Gerald Ford, in consultation with his many contacts in the pharmaceutical industry (whom he had represented in the Senate for years), initiated a program to immunize all of the then 220 million residents of the U.S. Ford himself was immunized in front of TV cameras. The feared pandemic never materialized and the soldiers at Fort Dix are now believed to have been the victims either of an isolated instance of a rare strain of flu or of a mis-diagnosis. On the other hand, some 25 deaths occurred among the approximately 24 percent of the population (about 40 million) that were actually vaccinated, and a rise in the instance of a polio-like autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome, was noted among the vaccinated population.
Pandemic of War, Pandemic of Poverty
Central to government propaganda concerning avian influenza is the great influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920. The malnutrition and displacement wrought by the First World War fanned the dissemination of the disease. Even in the U.S., vitamin-poor diets associated with poverty, as well as a lack of individual consciousness about the health of the immune system and its relationship to diet and personal behavior, allowed the disease to spread through the big cities and claim hundreds of thousands of lives.
Now, new diseases are breeding in the places where animals are force-fed and slaughtered to satisfy our fatty urges and spread obesity. There is a symmetry between the damage that we humans inflict on the environment, and on other living things, and that which we inflict upon ourselves. Instead of entrusting our health and our future to Donald Rumsfeld or Bill Frist, perhaps we need to be improving our diets and getting rid of war and mass displacements, the scourges of the twentieth century which are showing so sign of abatement in the twenty-first.
This piece originally appeared in The Shadow, New York City, Spring 2006
“Rumsfeld’s Growing Stake in Tamiflu,” Fortune, Oct. 31, 2005
“Japan links Tamiflu to teen suicides,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 15, 2005
“AVIAN FASCISM: The Ecology of Pandemic and the Impending Bio-Police State,” by Michael I. Niman
“Beware the Bio-Industrial Complex,” WW4 REPORT #15
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution