The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare

February 18th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evening standard, express, independent, mail, mirror, MMR, scare stories, telegraph, times | 55 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 18, 2006
The Guardian

The interesting thing about the Tamiflu vaccine for bird flu that everybody keeps going on about, is this: it’s not a vaccine. The manufacturers even spell that out in their factsheet. It’s a drug, an antibiotic for viruses.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read Paul Routledge in the Mirror, Alan Hall in the Daily Mail, Sally Guyoncourt in the Express, the London Evening Standard, Simon Byrne in the Sunday People, and my own “yikes” favourite, Gavin Maguire, head of the “National Office for Emergency Planning” in Ireland, all of whom would tell you otherwise. I could go on.

I shall. “Babies Refused Bird Flu Vaccine: Doctors face life-or-death decisions”, screams the Daily Mail, in a story on a scare that hasn’t happened yet, for a vaccine that doesn’t exist. Any more? Looking at you, Terence Blacker and Sean O’Grady in the Independent. Christopher Hope at the Telegraph? Big smile now! But best of all: Lynne McTaggart.

She’s the character behind an organisation called What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or WDDTY, a successful book, pressure group, and publishing operation for a magazine called “Proof!”. They are a popular resource in certain sections of the media – and are quoted by name – because they love alternative therapies, they act all sciencey, and they are viciously, viciously anti-vaccine. But McTaggart doesn’t just make the Tamiflu vaccine mistake in passing, and move on. No. This isn’t just the misuse of a word: she builds an empire of hatred and distrust upon it.

She tells us of the evils of the measles vaccine (“which caused untold paralysis, damage and death”), and then she tells us how, because vaccines are only able to make your body recognise the appearance of certain strains, and the bird flu virus will change with time, so the drug will become useless: “Why flu drugs don’t work: all flu viruses change antigenically to evade recognition by the host’s immune system.” But Tamiflu, as you know, is not a vaccine.

The fun goes on for pages and pages because there is, rather joyfully, a whole bird flu special report, which you can download for free from their website: “Read the full facts about avian flu that the government and medical establishment don’t want you to know.”

And what are the full facts? In a radical move, even for the vaccine fear-mongering community, this time she has people dying from a vaccine that doesn’t actually exist: “Indeed, the flu shots are worse than useless. Japan has already reported that eight people have died – not from the virus, but from the avian flu jab itself.” Lordy. Good luck jabbing a Tamiflu capsule into your arm. Even better is where they call a virus with a 50% kill rate a pussycat: “At its worst, the avian flu has killed fewer than half the number of poultry workers who have been infected…however, if it truly is as lethal as we have been warned, it surely should have eventually killed everyone it infects.”

And what do they learn from this? “This suggests that a healthy body, and a properly functioning immune system, can withstand any viral attack.” They go on to suggest you might want to try vitamins A, C, and E, homeopathy, and the herbal remedies echinacea, Hydrastis canadensis, Andrographis paniculata, and Phytolacca americana.

Seriously. It goes on for pages and pages, rehashing the Tamiflu information leaflet’s safety data, in the most scaremongerish tones they can muster, quoting scientific journal articles – with the full citation, journal title, page number, year, issue number, all in the main body of the text – all to make themselves look as authoritative as is humanly possible, all while cursing and mocking the medical profession. And all the while they are blissfully, beautifully, wonderfully ignorant of the fact they have got the most important thing, at the heart of the matter, completely and utterly, pathetically, stupidly, obviously wrong. This isn’t bad science. It’s performance art.

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55 Responses

  1. When does ‘Skepticism’ become dogma? said,

    September 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    […] Ben Goldacre on Lynne McTaggart […]

  2. JonathonCowley said,

    November 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I’m no microbiologist, but I’m pretty sure that viruses mutate like all instances of evolution through natural selection – at random – and not as a conscious attempt to evade detection.

  3. JonathonCowley said,

    November 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “The irony is that the google ads for this page are now displaying ads for ‘bird flu masks’ and ‘suits’… Whatever those are.”

    Something like this perhaps?

  4. Polio in WDDTY - WWDDTYDTY said,

    December 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    […] is, to quote Ben Goldacre, “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine“, even to the point of inventing deaths from a non-existent vaccine, so it’s no […]

  5. John Consemulder | HoaxWiki said,

    June 27, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    […] ↑ […]