WHO exaggerated H1N1 Threat, Potential COI issues

Two separate European reports criticized the WHO for exaggerating the H1N1 threat and failing to disclose pharmaceutical conflicts of interest. The first report was from the Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (say that three times) and looked at the pandemic response and the second was from BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and looked at the 2004 guidelines which were written by three experts with financial ties to Roche and GlaxoSmithKline. Washington Post article (here), BMJ+BIJ (here), Council of Europe article (here) and pdf of Council of Europe report (here). I wonder if N95 manufacturers are getting nervous?


  1. Thanks for posting on this, Eli, it is interesting on so many levels, and touches on two of our favorite blogging topics, the H1N1 pandemic and conflict of interest! A couple random observations:

    The outrage so far has been confined almost exclusively to Europe. Why is that? You hear almost nothing about this in the U.S.—certainly there was a lot of media coverage when the WHO “called” the pandemic, and much debate about that, as we covered in several posts on this blog (just click on keyword “pandemic” in the labels section on the right hand column of this blog, to read all those posts).

    The WHO response seems weirdly defensive. The WaPo article quotes a WHO spokesman saying “to insinuate that this was not a pandemic is very disrespectful to the people who died from it.” Excuse me? I think you can make a rational argument for this having been a pandemic without accusing those who disagree of “dissing” the dead. Influenza deaths are tragic no matter when they occur, and I don’t think that those who died from 2009 H1N1 particularly care at this point.

    Finally, the WHO response regarding COI is a bit tone deaf. “WHO ….categorically ….believes that is has not been subject to undue conflict-of-interest…we feel that the guidelines produced were certainly not subject to undue influence.” Of course they believe that! No one thinks the guidelines they produce have been subject to undue influence related to COI. The point is at least as much about the perception of COI as it is about actual, demonstrated COI. SHEA, IDSA, and others who are promulgating guidance statements about mandatory healthcare worker vaccination need to take notes here. To what extent do the authors of the statements, and the societies who produce them, have conflicts with vaccine manufacturers? No matter where you stand on the issue, any such conflicts may undercut the statements.


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