by Martin Masse**
|The H1N1 Flu: Are We Just Crying Wolf Yet Again?* (Print Version)
Le Québécois Libre,
15, 2009, No 271.
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."
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
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.
Bradley Doucet. **Martin Masse
is publisher of QL.