Montreal, October 15, 2009 • No 271


Martin Masse is publisher of QL.




The H1N1 Flu: Are We Just Crying Wolf Yet Again?*


by Martin Masse


          When I was a teenager, the big scare was being burnt to a crisp in a nuclear attack. Some nerds interested in astronomy (like me) also imagined the Earth being hit by a giant asteroid, like the one that is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs some 60 million years ago. These fears were ever present and rather diffuse, and apart from certain sensationalist films like The Day After and documentaries about dinosaurs, they were rarely mentioned in the media.


          Nowadays, it's just one big scare after another filling up our daily lives. Who could forget the AIDS crisis, the Y2K bug, global warming, terrorism, SARS, avian flu, the collapse of the banking system, and so on. The end of the world is announced every six months, unless something is done, something generally costing billions of dollars and requiring at times draconian restrictions of our way of life. All of these announced catastrophes come and go, however, and the Earth keeps turning.

          Behind each of these big scares, we find interest groups very much invested in having everyone believe in this next catastrophe, and having governments take "necessary measures" to prevent it: the military-industrial complex, the medical and pharmaceutical establishment, or environmental activists and companies that sell "green" products. These groups are either directly linked to the State, or they enjoy a privileged access to it and have highly developed networks of influence. And let's not forget the mainstream media, with airtime or pages to fill, who attempt to hold their audiences' attention with hysterical reporting.

          The pattern is always the same. Those who express skepticism or who challenge the reasoning behind the big scare are called reckless, irresponsible, or "deniers." Every time, governments take advantage of the situation to reduce our traditional rights and freedoms a little bit more. And when a big scare passes, we forget everything, fail to carry out a critical post-mortem, and just move on to the next one. Is it any wonder that people are starting to be fed up and are actually less and less likely to let themselves be manipulated?

          Quebec's Health Minister, Yves Bolduc, recently expressed his concern over growing popular suspicion of the massive vaccination campaigns under preparation to deal with influenza A(H1N1), and the difficulty in getting his message across. The vaccination strategy is indeed "called into question daily in emails, discussion forums, readers' letters, Internet sites, networking sites like Facebook, and even public conferences."

"The turn of this past century may well be described by future historians as a bizarre period during which entire populations were subjected to waves of millenarian fevers."

          Yes, it's not easy to brainwash and control the population in the Internet age. Fifteen years ago, when the obedient media controlled the basic message and could stifle all debate, things were a lot simpler. Today, they need to take into account everything that takes place outside their little world and make some attempt to explain it. In the Montreal daily Le Devoir, we can therefore read the following:

          Two kinds of discourse nonetheless short-circuit the official message. The first takes the form of anti-vaccine suspicions based on conspiracy fears. These attacks for the most part lack any scientific grounding. Several are downright bizarre, like those allegations of bioterrorist manipulations aiming to eradicate half the global population via a rigged vaccine engineered in a secret lab belonging now to American forces, now to Al Qaeda.

          Other discussions, however, do highlight real omissions or contradictions in the health authorities' subtle message. The scientific community itself helps muddy the message. Again this week, the WHO called into question the validity of a Canadian study concluding that people who have been vaccinated for the seasonal flu were twice as likely to contract the pandemic virus.

          Last week, it was the Canadian Medical Association Journal's turn to contest the effectiveness of hand washing in breaking the virus's chain of contamination, a strategy which had been the cornerstone of the preventive measures promoted by Quebec. Amidst this slew of contradictory studies, even the specialists are confused. In France and England, over half of nurses plan to refuse the H1N1 vaccine. Here, doctors are no longer hesitant to swim against the current by expressing their doubts about the Canadian strategy, when they don't speak out explicitly against vaccination… As a result, one out of two Canadians want nothing to do with the H1N1 vaccine.

          Should we deduce that there are some good reasons to be sceptical?! As with global warming, the more we realize that the "experts" don't even agree amongst themselves and that the supposed "consensus" on the question is just a myth meant to delegitimize and silence opponents, the less the population will swallow everything it's told without question.

          In the case of influenza A, there are reasons aplenty to be sceptical. In La Presse, a columnist explains why she, after believing we were overly concerned for no reason, became very worried after having interviewed Dr. Redouane Bouali, the former chief intensivist for the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) and current Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) Leader for the Champlain region in Ontario.

          After speaking of the Australian experience in which 300 patients had to be hospitalized in June, the good doctor specified that "The Australian experience does not alter the fact that influenza A(H1N1) remains a minor disease with very low mortality." Oh, really! Then why create a climate of hysteria over it? Why expose millions of people to unnecessary risk by administering a vaccine that is probably useless in the majority of cases? Why buy 11 million doses in Quebec for a population of 7.5 million? Why the global coordination as if the Martians had just invaded? Why blacken page after ink-stained page on the question every single day? Why envision extreme measures where health personnel will be forced to go to work and the population will be herded around like cattle?

          There are obviously people, pressure groups, bureaucracies and businesses that are profiting enormously from this big scare, both financially and in terms of the power trips they can indulge in. But with every new crisis that ends up not really being one, the level of scepticism rises. And since it is very easy nowadays both to get informed and to spread information, it takes less and less time for opposition to get organized.

          The turn of this past century may well be described by future historians as a bizarre period during which entire populations were subjected to waves of millenarian fevers. In the meantime, let's hope that no actual threats to the security or safety of the world present themselves only to be treated too lightly and cause more harm than necessary for that very reason. If that should happen, those who have cried wolf for no reason (or to further their own interests) for decades will be criminally responsible.