Tamiflu: largely ornamental

It is perhaps a sign of the times that a common reaction to public and media hysteria over H1N1 ‘swine’ flu was one of scepticism. Those who caught it mostly said that it wasn’t that bad, and although it’s been sad to hear of deaths caused by the virus, the number of lives lost has been a fraction of the death toll for seasonal flu. Nonetheless, swine flu became a political issue and something had to be done, or at least seen to be done.

First, there were reports that many pregnant women were refusing the vaccine because they did not consider it worth the risk. Next, we heard that the programme for vaccinating children against the virus was in chaos as an agreement could not be reached with GPs. Now, it transpires that none of this matters anyway because the vaccine doesn’t work.

This is not entirely surprising; after all, the vaccine was put together at extremely short notice. However, the government leapt in and spent £500m of NHS money on these drugs. The amount earmarked for GP payments would have brought the total almost to £1 billion. This is money that was intended to treat patients but instead turned into an empty political exercise: rushing to respond to the headlines.

Drugs such as these must be thoroughly investigated before such huge sums can be spent on them. Clinical trials are still being registered and the information is there, but not all results are published. It may not make thrilling reading in journals and newspapers, but the results should still be mandatorily posted in the public domain. Without this we can’t make fully informed decisions on new drugs and medical devices, and instead we throw unspeakable amounts of taxpayer money at solutions that don’t work. The ghost of a solution to the ghost of a crisis should not cost us this much.

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