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Lack of transparency, alarmism, excessive spending, vested interests. The mistakes pointed out to the management of the 2009 pandemic

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has given negative points for most of the European interventions made during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, and alerted to serious errors.

According to the PACE document, which dates back to 2010, the way the World Health Organisation (WHO), European health agencies and national governments managed this pandemic led to a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public“. The text reveals that there is “overwhelming evidence that the seriousness of the pandemic was vastly overrated by WHO“, resulting in the distortion of public health priorities.

The parliamentarians also identifiedgrave shortcomings” in the transparency of decision-making about the outbreak, which ultimately led to concerns about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on decisions made. “Plummeting confidence in such advice could prove “disastrous” in the case of a severe future pandemic,” they said.

The Assembly left a series of urgent recommendations that underscore the importance of greater transparency and governance in public health, and safeguards against what it called “undue influence by vested interests“.

It said it “seriously regrets” that the WHO and European health institutions “have not been willing to share some essential information, including publish the names and declarations of interest of the members of the WHO Emergency Committee and relevant European advisory bodies directly involved in recommendations concerning the pandemic“.

Furthermore, “the Assembly regrets that WHO has not moved swiftly to revise or re-evaluate its position on the pandemic and the real health risks involved”.

The document also talks about the relevance of a public fund to support independent research, trials and expert advice, possibly funded by a compulsory contribution from the pharmaceutical industry, and called on the media “in order to avoid sensationalism and scaremongering in the public health domain“.

The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, initially called swine flu, lasted for about 20 months – from January 2009 to August 2010. It reached threat level six on the WHO scale, the maximum, and reportedly killed 18,449 people, the official number of laboratory-confirmed deaths reported by the WHO. The CDC speaks of 284,000 deaths.

We should remember that Imperial College, which has been very influential in the current pandemic, predicted at the time (2009) a case fatality rate of swine flu of between 0.3 and 1.5%, with the most likely scenario being 0.4%. That indicator ended up estimated at around 0.02% (20 times lower).

In the UK, the government estimate based on Imperial’s model was around 65,000 deaths in the “reasonable worst-case scenario“. In the end 457 people died.

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