Saturday, September 4, 2010

WHO's H1N1 COI Dust-Up: It’s Time for Cooler Heads to Prevail

The waiting is over, the list is out. Of the 15 or 16 flu experts who served as advisers to WHO during the swine flu epidemic, five had prior, or current, financial connections to industry while the board was discussing how to handle the spread of H1N1.

A brief recap: BMJ reported a couple months ago that Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the WHO, would not release names of members of an important committee with industry ties. This committee decided when to announce the pandemic, and BMJ, among others, wanted to know if committee members’ decisions helped put money in vaccine makers' pockets, namely Roche and GSK.

According to BMJ, industry made about $7 billion because the committee wrongly predicted how large the pandemic would be, and so countries stockpiled the antivirals. H1N1 didn’t spread as rapidly, and wasn’t as deadly, as was expected. Conspiracy theorists unite!

According to a story in the Ottawa Star, “The WHO said all ties were disclosed to the committee, which decided they did not constitute conflicts of interest.” This board apparently made its decisions together about how extensive they thought the pandemic would be; how many people it would affect; how long it would last; and so on.

But think about it: If eight of the 15 advisers had active KOL contracts with industry members that made flu vaccines, one could say, “Yeah, there’s a conflict. We need to rethink this.” But that wasn’t the case here. Unless we missed something, five out of 15 is a third, which does not make a quorum -- it’s a minority of the board. Fingers were pointed, charges were leveled. The unintended consequence? KOLs are considered guilty by association.

As a result the solutions to solve problems will be colored by the implication of motivation and greed, but what would have happened if nothing had been done, what would have been the outcry from maybe some of these same critics had people perished as a result of these vaccines not being available?

When will those with cooler heads show their leadership?

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