Swine flu outbreak: One year later

Was the World Health Organization's response to the swine flu pandemic reasonable or over the top and tainted by commercial interests? Both USA Today and AFP take a look at the WHO's response to the swine flu pandemic a year after the discovery of the deadly virus.

"It's a decision which costs huge amounts of money, which frightened people throughout the world unnecessarily," said Paul Flynn, a British parliamentarian who has led a Council of Europe inquiry on the issue. According to AFP, Flynn says that massive sums were spent on anti-virals and vaccines, which went largely wasted as skeptical populations refused to get vaccinated. He lambasted the WHO's actions: "The next time someone cries wolf over a pandemic, the overwhelming majority will not take it seriously. A pandemic cannot be whatever the WHO declares it to be," he says, as quoted by the Independent.

For example, in France the purchase of 94 million vaccines cost the state around €600 million ($798.2 million), but only less than 10 percent of the population went to get vaccinated, AFP reports. And the U.K. government ordered 100 million doses of vaccine, but announced earlier this month that it had "over-bought" 30 million doses, worth £150 million ($230.2 million), which were now being exchanged for other products, the Independent reports.

While governments rushed to cancel massive vaccine orders, critics railed against drugmakers that they see as having benefited handsomely and decried the WHO's response. But others have come to the organization's defense:  "A lot of the criticism is political. I've not heard criticism from any virologist," says John Oxford, a virologist and professor at Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in Britain.

And although the WHO is looking into its own response to the pandemic, its flu expert Keiji Fukuda said that the body has "to have room to make decisions that are different from what the plans call for," as quoted by USA Today.

The article, which focuses on the U.S. government's response, points out that responders had to be nimble; for example, they couldn't have anticipated that flu would pop up in the spring, when the world's vaccine producers were already busy preparing seasonal flu vaccine for the fall. Furthermore, it came at a time when the Obama administration was in its infancy and was racing to fill key positions, among them the secretary of Health and Human Services.

University of Michigan flu expert Arnold Monto gives the federal government high marks for its actions. "I think the U.S. response was totally appropriate," he says, as quoted by USA Today. "We did get a little panicked at first, but when you're apprehensive about what's coming your way and getting reports of deaths flooding in from Mexico, that's understandable."

- see the Independent's take
- read the USA Today article
- check out the AFP story