The joint announcement by the British Medical Journal and the Cochrane Foundation that the two influenza drugs being stockpiled in the event of a pandemic are, in fact, little better than acetaminophen, raises some serious questions as to preparedness should a pandemic strike.
The announcement from BMJ and Cochrane, released on April 10, states: “Tamiflu (the antiviral drug oseltamivir) shortens symptoms of influenza by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza.” The press release goes on to state: “Claims about the effectiveness of Tamiflu against complications were a key factor in decisions made by governments around the world to stockpile these drugs in case of a pandemic. The US has spent more than 1.3 billion buying a strategic reserve of antivirals, while in the UK the government has spent almost £424 million for a stockpile of about 40 million doses*.
Concerns are also raised as to the lack of transparency in the trial data of the drugs. Dr David Tovey, Editor-in-Chief at Cochrane, said: “We now have the most robust, comprehensive review on neuraminidase inhibitors that exists. Initially thought to reduce hospitalisations and serious complications from influenza, the review highlights that Tamiflu is not proven to do this, and it also seems to lead to harmful effects that were not fully reported in the original publications. This shows the importance of ensuring that trial data are transparent and accessible.” Which was not the case with the Tamiflu and Relenza trials.
The announcement by BMJ and Cochrane comes at a time that a number of government insiders have warned that a pandemic or biological weapons attack is imminent.
Following the US anthrax attacks of 2001, the US government began pumping billions of dollars into a biodefense program, over $70 billion according to recent accountings. The number of BSL (Biosafety Labs) Levels 3 and 4 have skyrocketed since 2001.
The BSLs are number coded to indicate their level of security and the danger level of the agents they may work with. For example, a BSL1 is typified as appropriate for work with agents that are not known to cause disease, while a BSL3 is suited for work with anthrax. BSL4s may handle the most dangerous bugs known to man, those with no known cure. Ebola and Marburg are on the list of select agents that may only be handled in BSL4s.
There are now over 1350 BSL3s within the United States. However, you wouldn’t know this to talk to the CDC. The CDC insisted to this reporter that the number of BSL3s is around 350 and has not increased since 2001, a statement called into question by documents filed in a court action, entered into the record by none other than the US Department of Justice and revealing over four times the number of BSL3s cited by the CDC. The number of BSL4s in the official CDC count is also in question.
The activities taking place within these labs further ramps up concerns. The now defunct Sunshine Project detailed case after case in which the work going on in these labs lacked mandated supervision. Also of concern is the dual use issue.
Dual use works like this—in order to create a countermeasure, ie, a drug to treat a specific bug, one must first have the disease agent itself. As the oversight as to the goings on in these labs is sparse, and given the dismal results of the considerable amount of money pumped into these labs in the last decade, one might question the nature of the ongoing work.
For example, fourteen years after the anthrax attacks, no second generation anthrax vaccine has been developed. The first anthrax vaccine has been thought to create Gulf War Syndrome. This vaccine continues to be stockpiled by the US government under Project Bioshield.
The money going into Project Bioshield, which was originally funded in 2004 and was renewed just last year, is difficult to justify, given the results. In 2001, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the countermeasure program was “full of leaks, choke points and dead ends.” The allocation of money into the Bioshield Program has not spurred industry into the activity that was projected. According to the National Journal, “Others have said the original $5.6 billion tranche was simply not enough to attract interest from major drugmakers in turning their work toward the anti-WMD goal.”
An apparent interest evidenced by the US government in creating genetic specific weapons also raises questions as to the intentionality of this very secret and expensive biodefense program. The possibility for international oversight of the BSLs was derailed just months before the 2001 anthrax by none other than the US government, which boycotted the international proposal hammered out by a working group with the Biological Weapons Convention. Due to this, the BWC remains a paper tiger, with no verification or enforcement protocol.
The continued disinterest by the US in supporting a verification protocol was echoed most recently by Hillary Clinton, in her capacity as Secretary of State under President Obama. This stance, coupled with the alteration of the US’s domestic biological weapons statute, right after the attacks of September, 2001, would make anyone queasy. This alteration, which took place in Section 817 of the USA PATRIOT Act, gave the US government immunity against violating its own biological weapons statute.
Given all these questions surrounding the efficacy of the US’s biodefense program added to the ramped up activity in these labs, one might well wonder what in the world is going on. The recent disclosures that our best defense against a pandemic flu is really quite useless only adds to these concerns.
Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.