Remember the swine flu scare of 2009-2010 with its attendant fear, panic and costly vaccination program? On Monday evening MEPs will look at whether it was necessary. The Environment Committee has criticised the EU's response to the outbreak as "disproportionate" and we spoke to rapporteur French Green Michèle Rivasi ahead of the discussion in Plenary on Monday and vote on Tuesday.
In your report you say the response was "Given that people died, wasn't it better to err on the side of caution?
According to the figures provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), influenza A(H1N1) 2009 caused 2,900 deaths in Europe by the end of April 2010. These figures are low in comparison to the official mortality estimates for seasonal influenza, which the Commission puts at 40,000 deaths in a moderate year and 220,000 in a particularly severe season. The moderate severity of H1N1 influenza was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation in May 2009, yet one month later, the WHO issued the highest level "pandemic" for H1N1 - based on the ability of the virus to spread, not based on its severity.
This maximum level alert triggered a raft of measures in the EU, in particular very costly vaccination campaigns in many Member States (e.g. the costs are estimated at €1.3 billion in the UK and between €700-760 million in France - compared with €87 million against seasonal influenza in France).
Spending billions of euros on vaccines against H1N1 influenza seems grossly disproportionate to the actual – and known – severity of H1N1 influenza.
What can we learn? What should have been done differently?
Our evaluation of the management of H1N1 influenza in the EU shows that we need more cooperation, more independence and more transparency.
We have asked for a revision of future influenza pandemic prevention plans to make them sufficiently autonomous and flexible.
The definition of a pandemic has to be revised to include severity. We support joint purchasing of vaccines, but we need to be sure that the full liability for the quality, safety and efficacy for the authorised indications of a medicinal product rest with the manufacturer.
Studies on vaccines and antiviral medications should be independent of pharmaceutical companies. Accelerated authorisation procedure stressed the problem of the scientific evidence available. We need complete transparency about the evaluation of medicinal products recommended in the event of health emergencies and all declarations of interest by the evaluation experts need to be published.