If there is any pandemic sweeping the globe, it’s one of fear and greed, not a deadly new strain of influenza.
The news media have filled their pages and newscasts with reports of deaths in Mexico, Texas, and even one in Canada, where a toddler was reported to have died on the east coast. Politicians debate a national vaccination program, while shares skyrocket in firms making germ-resistant medical masks. Airlines and tour operators suspend trips to Mexico. Airports increase screenings of vacationers returning from that country.
This fear-mongering created hysteria and then pointed to the solution: “Until a vaccine is ready,” CanWest News reported, “the primary line of defence will be the government’s stockpile of antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, which some experts believe can prevent infection and slow the spread of a pandemic.”
In 2005, Tamiflu was administered to children in Japan in response to an outbreak of the bird flu there. Newspapers in that country later reported that “children who were administered Tamiflu went mad and tried to kill themselves by jumping out of windows.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported later that 12 of the children had died, and that “there were reports of psychiatric disturbances, including hallucinations, along with heart and lung disorders.”
For the corporate media, however, history seldom repeats itself, as previous events have long since disappeared down the memory hole and no longer constitute “news.” Thus, few recalled what happened in 1976 when there was an outbreak of swine flu at the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey. U.S. President Gerald Ford ordered a national vaccination campaign, at a cost of about $125 million. Canada followed suit with free vaccinations, even though no cases had been reported north of the border. The inoculations were stopped in the U.S. after about 40 million people had been vaccinated. In the end, only one person died of the swine flu, but at least 500 people contracted Guillan-Barré, a rare paralyzing nerve disease believed to be a side-effect of the vaccine, and more than 30 of those who were vaccinated died.
In the context of the latest swine flu hysteria, we need to inquire not only about public safety, but also about who will get rich from the manufactured crisis. For example, in 2005, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CEO of the drug company Searle, owned stock in the one company that owns Tamiflu patents—to the tune of at least $18 million. So, when the corporate media use their power over public opinion to create panic over a disease outbreak, governments then use the hysteria to justify purchasing vaccines that sometimes harm and even kill the people they are supposed to protect. At the same time, people in business and government, such as Rumsfeld, reap huge profits at the public expense.
Big Pharma also makes huge profits, using long-term patents and captive (sometimes exclusive) markets. The large pharmaceutical companies operate a dirty business. They falsify research, risk people’s health and lives, use celebrities and medical doctors to push their drugs, and manufacture nonexistent diseases they can then “cure.”
For example, Big Pharma firms revised the acceptable cholesterol level guidelines so they could create a cholesterol “epidemic” and profit from selling Statin drugs which have serious side-effects. But it doesn’t stop there. They “educate” medical students and doctors, provide incentives or even outright bribes such as free vacations to those who prescribe their drugs. They control the release of research results with big bucks and tight contracts. Then they try to ruin the careers and reputations of researchers and other whistleblowers, such as Canadians Nancy Olivieri and Dr. Shiv Chopra, who speak out in defence of public safety.
That still isn’t the end of the corruption. Big Pharma also “ghostwrites” articles for well-known medical researchers, who put their names on the papers—sometimes without even seeing the data—in return for payoffs. Of course, these ostensibly “objective” and “scientific” articles are then published in academic medical journals, serving to play up the alleged benefits of pharmaceuticals and downplay their problems.
(James Winter is a professor in the Department of Media, Communications and Film at the University of Windsor. He has written extensively on Big Pharma and other issues in his book, Lies the Media Tell Us, Black Rose Books, Montreal.)