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Srinivas Mylavarapu PHIL 1000

Swine Flu: The Hype-Pharma Complex

Paragraph 1: Explain what the media has done to prop up the swine flu stories.

Paragraph 2: Explain what the WHO and the CDC have done, presenting inaccurate data and

changing the scope of the swine flu illness.

Paragraph 3: Connect the media and the public health organizations to the pharmaceutical

industry’s profits and future drug plans.

The recent outbreak of the swine influenza (H1N1) has caused much alarm amongst the

media, the public and health agencies. Swine flu is a subtype of the influenza A virus; the 2009

strain is a virus of swine origin. The 2009 outbreak of the swine flu has been exaggerated by the

media and the World Health Organization (WHO) which in-turn is leading to large profits by the

pharmaceutical industry on the backs of the public.

The mainstream media covered the outbreak relentlessly with alarmist messages

throughout. The first outbreak started in Mexico City where schools, bars and restaurants were

closed; on the night of these closures, CNN reported1 that Mexico City was going through a

“silent chaos” and conducted interviews with families “who have survived the swine flu”.

Nowhere did the reports mention that Mexico City suffers from world’s worst air quality and

infant mortality issues due to air pollution. Air pollution deaths in Mexico City itself are as high

as 100,000 per year. The reports coming in from Mexico was no reason to cause alarm.

According to the CDC2, Mexico had 50,000 running cases of acute respiratory illnesses from the

ever-prevalent seasonal flu and the H1N1 swine flu made up only 21% of the cases tested. For a

country with 106 million people a 5% rate of infection is no cause for panic; as of June 2009 the

CDC reported that the outbreaks in Mexico likely peaked in earlier months. As the amount of

outbreaks increased, the U.S news media confirmed that antiviral drugs will work against the

swine flu and alleviate symptoms. At the same time the amount of people visiting emergency

rooms and doctor's offices increased. Most of these patients had mild symptoms from, not

necessarily swine flu, influenza like illnesses which is a far broader category of illness. A similar

alarmist media reported3 in 2003 that the U.S will see widespread infections and deaths from an

avian flu virus, which had only affected 200 people; the reports were setting the scene for a food

and a medical health crisis. The report specifically highlighted that 70 days into an avian flu

pandemic, everyone in the US will know someone who has died and the death toll could reach

1 CNN Transcripts; Larry King Live April 2009

2 CDC Novel Influenza Virus Infection March-May 2009-- Mexico

3 MSNBC; In the case of the pandemic

hundreds of thousands. These reports never reflected what actually happened. The avian flu virus

has fizzled out and a handful of cases are reported yearly. Instead of delivering the information

in a rational way the media has and is overreacting and is still covering swine flu like it is the

1918 flu pandemic which killed 100 million people worldwide.

11 weeks after the first outbreak in Mexico City, the WHO declared swine flu a level 6

pandemic. To define the 2009 outbreak of swine flu as a pandemic the WHO changed its

definition of the word “pandemic”4. The definition change makes diseases pandemic if there are

more cases than normal, thus not requiring enormous number of deaths worldwide. To add fuel

to the swine flu frenzy, Professor Neil Ferguson at the WHO reported5 that the swine flu will

“infect 40 to 50% of United Kingdom’s population” if it truly turns pandemic. What is surprising

is that the WHO declared the virus a pandemic after the first death in United States was detected.

Previous to the swine flu the WHO has not declared any other flu outbreak a level 6 pandemic.

By this new definition the yearly bout of seasonal influenza should be declared a level 6

pandemic. The most recent influenza virus to generate mass casualties that was categorized as a

pandemic was the 1968 Hong Kong flu which killed an estimated 1 million people. The panic

was only heightened when 100 schools across the U.S. were closed due to risk of swine flu

infection which translated into 50,000 students staying home. U.S. officials from the CDC

reported6 that 40% of the U.S. population could catch the swine flu and 90,000 people could die

from the swine flu; to date the number of swine flu deaths in the U.S. stands at 4000. The CDC

and the WHO have also stopped tracking swine flu cases and have not required lab testing to

4 WHO; Pandemic Preparedness

5 BBC; Swine Flu: How serious a threat?

6 Seattle Times; Up to 40% in U.S. could get swine flu
differentiate between influenza like illness and the swine flu. Data released7 from the CDC

highlights that out of 13,000 patients impacted with flu like illnesses only 2% tested positive for

the swine flu and 12% tested positive for other kinds of flu. Instead of administering tests and

recording cases the WHO and the CDC resorted to spot checks, designed to identify basic

symptoms and risk factors. Not testing every patient also translates into misleading data when it

comes to tracking the actual number of deaths from the swine flu. In other words, encouraging

the public to take antiviral drugs and vaccines is the only prevention mechanism the agencies

have in mind.

The fear, panic and prevention methods highlighted by the CDC and the WHO benefits

pharmaceutical companies around the world. Increased demand for antiviral drugs Tamiflu and

Relenza proved beneficial to drug makers Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, who recorded more than

$100 million in profits due to the windfall from swine flu. Roche estimated that sales of its anti-

swine flu drug quadrupled during the pandemic and expects to rake in 2.7 billion francs in

revenue from Tamiflu. Even as the risk of the virus alleviates, swine flu vaccine makers have a

lot to gain from the pandemic. The swine flu vaccine that the drug companies have fast-tracked

will bring in billions of dollars in windfall profit; due to vaccine contracts from governments

around the world. Novartis A.G, Sanofi-aventis, GSK and CSL Limited expect8 $7 billion in

revenue from the swine flu and Novartis A.G has already generated $700 million in worldwide

swine flu vaccine sales. The drug companies manufacturing the swine flu vaccine have reported

7 CBS News; Swine flu cases overestimated

8 Reuters; Companies reap the swine flu windfall.
shortages in capacity and suggest that adjuvants are necessary to prepare vaccines faster.

Adjuvants allow drug makers to use less of the virus to make the vaccine; this translates into

more doses being prepared thus increasing efficiency and keeps costs low for the companies.

Even though the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of the adjuvants the

Department Health and Human Services has allocated $1 billion to purchase adjuvants from the

major drug makers, despite safety concerns9. The HHS has granted vaccine makers immunity

from lawsuits resulting from the swine flu vaccine and use of adjuvants may be approved as the

next logical step to dealing with the overblown pandemic. A free pass is being given to the drug

makers, during a 1976 outbreak of the swine flu, 40 million Americans were vaccinated and

thousands of claims were filed against drug companies for serious illnesses such as Guillain-

Barré syndrome10. While the media props up the swine flu story and public health agencies

recommend people take vaccines and antiviral drugs. The pharmaceutical industry stands to

benefit from the pandemic, to the tune of billions of dollars.

The current pandemic as measured by the inaccurate metrics of the WHO and the CDC

puts the death toll at less than 10,000. Only some of these cases are confirmed swine flu deaths

and the 2009 swine flu pandemic has been rated the mildest pandemic ever11. The seasonal flu

kills half-million people a year and it has never been declared a pandemic year-after-year. New

9 HHS News Release; HHS Purchases Additional H1N1 Vaccine Ingredients.

10 New York Times; Fear of a Swine Flu Epidemic in 1976 Offers Some Lessons, and
Concerns, Today.

11 Los Angeles Times; Swine Flu may be mildest pandemic ever, researchers say
research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that Roche AG’s Tamflu doesn’t

prove effective against flu complications due to lack of available data in adult patients12. The

relentless media coverage given to a disease that stems from the ever-prevalent influenza virus

and declaration of a pandemic for a disease that has affected less people than the regular

influenza virus has helped foster an environment of fear, uncertainty and doubt. These actions

have directly led to the raking in of billions of dollars in windfall profits by pharmaceutical


12 Bloomberg; Roche’s Tamiflu Not Proven to Cut Flu Complications