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Sunday, October 16, 2005



In Europe, Asia, South and North America governments clamor for bird flu vaccines - and they may have them so long as the pharmaceutical companies are indemnified against lawsuits. The U.S. Senate has already approved an amendment by Iowa's Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, adding $3.9 billion to a military appropriation for preparations for the expected outbreak. That money is earmarked for stockpiling medications to combat the virus, if it does occur, and also, reportedly for "immunity from lawsuits if a vaccination causes harm,” according to an article in the Washington insider publication, The Hill.

The additional money is not something that either the administration nor Capitol Hill wants to bring to the attention of consumers, perhaps for fear of casting doubt on the efficacy of the vaccines that are to be developed. Yet it does, again, raise questions about vaccines in general that have become increasingly strident in the wake of the controversy regarding the mercury-containing vaccine preservative Thimerosol which is held by some to trigger developmental conditions such as autism. Thimerosol, ironically, has been removed from most vaccines but is still generally found in those for the flu.

As the Internet has again made non-mainstream reporting feasible, those health care practitioners working outside of the pharmaceutical/medical model along with concerned parents and other consumer watchdog groups have begun to question not only the safety of vaccines with Thimerosol, but the efficacy of vaccines in general. There is a case to be made, for instance - one that apparently includes strong epidemiological evidence - that the vaccinations developed for some original diseases such as smallpox and polio were seen as efficacious not because they worked but because these diseases were actually fading fast as a result of the industrial revolution, better nutrition and better hygiene. According to this theory, vaccines have been given credit for alleviating or even eradicating diseases that would not have persisted in any case.

What is certainly true is that vaccines were far more controversial at the turn of the last century than they are today; critics increasingly hold that there has been a fairly disciplined campaign over the years to remove negative information from the historical literature and from popular reference books such as Encyclopedias as well. The controversy may yet continue to build given that vaccine manufacturers already have to struggle with various uncomfortable issues including a recent CDC study that confirmed the 2004 flu vaccine only had a beneficial effect on between 5-15% of those who received it.

Meanwhile, those who cite the Spanish Flu epidemic as a reason to distribute bird flu vaccine may be leaving out a point cited by at least some historical annals of that pandemic currently available on the Net - that Spanish Flu was apparently the result, at least partially, of an Allied vaccine program and a subsequent inoculation campaign by vaccine manufacturers to use up stock at the end of the war. These aggressive measures combined with the wretched health and hygiene of the First World War and the dissemination into civilian society of tends of thousands of infected men helped create the pandemic which killed millions. Also down the memory hole is apparently a popular saying of the time, that vaccinations killed up to seven times more soldiers than pandemic itself.

Today, there is no specific human-mutated bird flu virus that calls for a vaccine and thus, in fact, one cannot exist. Yet as a result of the possibility that a bird flu vaccine might at some point be needed, the U.S. government, according to the New Scientist, has managed to recreate the Spanish Influenza virus and has actually tested it in a "heavily quarantined" laboratory in Atlanta. The structure of the virus has also been widely disseminated in scientific publications.

If a bird flu vaccine were necessary, it would be distributed in the form of dead vaccine, and yet accidents happen. In April, more than 4,000 vials of a strain of vaccine almost as deadly as the Spanish Influenza were sent out to testing facilities around the world - a move that left officials red faced and the labs scrambling to destroy the samples immediately.

Finally, there is always the possibility that once created, the deadlier forms of flu vaccine can be used for purposes other than research. Terrorists, for instance, might be able to obtain samples and unleash a virulent infection upon the world. Even more unimaginable yet still within the realm of possibility, say some neo-vaccine prohibitionists, is that a struggling Western or third world government might choose to release vaccine in order to create a disastrous public health situation that would distract attention and might even give those in power the possibility of gaining further power, as chaos mounted through some sort of militarization of society. While this probably could not happen in the most advanced Western cultures, many agree, with their well-established traditions of civilian rule, there are certainly potentialities in various regions for this sort of scenario to play out.

In general, governments may be partial to vaccines – whether they work or not – because they are possibly the mightiest metaphor available for all that big government’s proponents want to believe is “good” in government. They are truly massive programs and, at almost every turn, there is an opportunity for governments to remind their citizens that such “immunization” would not be possible without big government organization and generous cash contributions. Yet, despite the urge to exhibit such ponderous giveaways, there is probably no reason for governments to thrown hundreds of millions at pharmaceutical companies for the production of a bird flu vaccine. Again, there are questions as to the general efficacy of flu vaccines; also such a vaccine cannot be produced until there is a human form of bird flu; even if it were then produced, it probably wouldn't be effective for another six months to a year, by which time the pandemic probably would already have run its course.

Unfortunately, in both the United States and France, human bird-flu vaccine is already being produced. Only this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Sanofi a $97 million contract to develop a new type of flu vaccine. Those concerned with the development and spread of these vaccines - well in advance of anything that they might be effective against - have vowed to generate a significant mass movement of call-ins to the U.S. municipal, state and federal government asking that further work on bird-flu vaccines be halted. These individuals, including individuals prominent in alternative health care point out that proper hygiene, large doses of vitamin C and the application of "essential oils" are well known inhibitors of flu-type sicknesses. Vaccines, however, are known to suppress immune systems - a dangerous effect during the beginnings of a pandemic.

Due to the continued controversy over the bird flu vaccine and vaccines in general, there is perhaps more industry concern than had been expected in official circles, anyway, about potential liability acting as "a deterrent for wider participation." This too is acting as a retardant of new flu vaccinations. - ST

Posted by Becca

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