Now that the World Health Organization has officially declared that the swine flu pandemic is over (see this), the agency has finally released the names of the scientific advisors who helped with pandemic decisions and their declared conflicts of interest, such as paid work for drugmakers.
The move comes four months after the WHO denied the pharmaceutical industry had undue influence over its decisions about the extent of the pandemic and two months after the Council of Europe issued a report harshly criticizing the agency's lack of transparency around the handling of the swine flu pandemic (back story here and here).
For its part, the WHO called the accusations "conspiracy theories," but refused to release the conflict of interest forms filed by the 16 members of its emergency pandemic committee that advised WHO director Margaret Chan. In releasing the list now, though, the WHO says "the interests summarized...do not give rise to a conflict of interest such that the experts concerned should be partially or totally excluded from participation in the Emergency Committee. However, following WHO's policy, they were disclosed within the Committee so that other members were aware of them. All other Members of the Emergency Committee declared no relevant interests." [Our thought: the WHO should have disclosed the info from the start, especially if it was confident any conflicts were not an impediment.]
What sorts of conflicts are we talking about? Here is the list of disclosures and you can judge for yourself whether people with these backgrounds should have served on the committee:
Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, declared current and past consultancies in pandemic and seasonal flu GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Roche, Baxter and Sanofi less than $10,000 each. In addition, his research unit at the university received a grant from Sanofi Pasteur for a clinical trial conducted in 2007-2008 on the comparative efficacy of inactivated and live attenuated influenza vaccines.
John Wood, a principal scientist in the virology division of the UK's National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, disclosed that his unit performed contract research for Sanofi Pasteur, CSL, IFPMA, Novartis and Powdermed in influenza vaccine research and development.
Maria Zambon, who heads the respiratory virus unit in the virus reference department at the Health Protection Agency, Centre for Infection in London, disclosed that her employer receives funding from vaccine makers, including Sanofi, Novartis, CSL, Baxter and GSK, for contract work in her lab.
Neil Morris Ferguson, a chair in mathematical biology in the department of infectious disease epidemiology at the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine in London, has acted as a consultant for Roche and GSK Biologicals (ending in 2007), with total remuneration under $7,000 in 2007. And Nancy Cox, the director of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disclosed that her public health and surveillance research unit receives financial support from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, an industry trade group.