Before he had even bid goodbye to the COVID-19 pandemic, World Health Organisation boss Tedros Adhanom exhorted us to welcome yet another ‘PHEIC’ (public health emergency of international concern) in the guise of monkeypox. As though part of a coordinated global response (funny that), the national and international media dutifully carried scary headlines to sound the loudest alarm bell. Experts were wheeled out to express their deep concern over a “rapidly closing” window of opportunity for containing the global outbreak.
Since then, one and half months have elapsed with no appreciable sense of terror and anxiety smouldering among the masses. Reports of this weaker sibling of the deadly smallpox virus spreading like wildfire are disappearing as fast as they surfaced. It’s not only the big headlines and barrage of overhyped data that have disappeared; not even a few lines of small print are any longer visible. It appears that monkeypox has refused to live up to the fevered expectations placed upon it by the biosecurity alarmists. The purpose of this article is not to resurrect a horror story that is already half-forgotten. Rather, it is to raise a question about whether those behind the fear campaign for monkeypox have given up and shuffled back into their shells. Curiously, the answer is both yes and no.
Among the reasons for saying yes, the fear campaign is defunct, are the host of implausible statements and goof-ups on the part of Dr. Tedros, who transparently failed to convince much of the public that this was a disease of any great terror. He claimed to have acted as “tie-breaker” when he unilaterally declared monkeypox a PHEIC despite his own advisers on the Emergency Committee, on July 21st 2022, resolving nine to six against such a move. A month earlier, on June 23rd, a similar move by Mr. Tedros was defeated 11 against and three in favour. Though he tried his best to outsmart those taking the opposite view, he ended up with a statement on July 23rd which spoke unconvincingly of “scientific principles, evidence and other relevant information which are currently insufficient and leave us with many unknowns”. Despite admitting that the outbreak had spread “through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little”, he claimed that “with the tools we have right now, we can stop transmission and bring this outbreak under control”.
With many unknowns and inadequate information, how could he take the part of messiah to bring out these magic “tools to stop the transmission”? He was clear that the outbreak “has been concentrated largely among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, with many [infections] occurring in men who have had multiple recent sex partners” – yet one of the temporary recommendations, issued by the WHO on the same day, reads: “Implement response actions with the goal of protecting vulnerable groups (immune suppressed individuals, children, pregnant women) who may be at risk of severe monkeypox disease.”
How children and pregnant women can be vulnerable to a disease largely concentrated among men who have sex with men is, I suggest, comprehensible only to a public health bureaucrat practised in making a mockery of scientific truth.
At the time, all five deaths attributed to the virus were confined to two African countries said to be the ‘home’ of monkeypox. No deaths had been reported in the USA or Europe. Nonetheless, Europe was placed on high alert, which required “accelerated research into use of vaccine, therapeutics and other tools”.
On the day Mr. Tedros declared the PHEIC, the WHO published interim guidance on laboratory testing for monkeypox. It said that to differentiate monkeypox from a group of closely resembling set of clinical features, laboratory confirmation of specimens is to be done by NAAT (generic to orthopox virus) or real-time PCR testing specific to monkeypox virus. The guidance brushed aside a fundamental question, namely whether a PCR test can confirm the presence of an infectious virus. A research article published by the CDC on July 7th 2006 unequivocally said: “PCR can only identify short stretches of poxvirus DNA. Nevertheless, since EM and PCR cannot discriminate between infectious and noninfectious virus particles or nucleic acids, they are not satisfactory when an evaluation of the infectious capacity of viral particles is required.”
It went on to say: “Virus concentration should exceed 10 particles/mL; however, even at these concentrations only the virus family can be determined, and no additional classification is possible.”
The latest disclaimer on monkeypox generic real-time PCR testing, issued by the CDC on June 6th 2022 says: “The recipient testing laboratory is responsible for generating validation or verification data as applicable.”
The generic test method was said to be “just an example on how the test was done” in the CDC lab. It did not claim that this test method was validated or verified for universal use. Nevertheless, by June 22nd, “CDC in collaboration with U.S. department of HHS began shipping orthopoxvirus tests to five commercial laboratory companies, including the nation’s largest reference laboratories”. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said: “All Americans should be concerned about monkeypox cases. Thankfully we have right now the tools to fight and treat cases in America by dramatically expanding the number of testing locations throughout the country, we are making it possible for anyone who needs to be tested to do so.”
But despite all the hype and plans to mount a coordinated response with a ready-approved vaccine, dubious testing and recommended drugs, monkeypox has not played ball for the simple reason that it is an endemic virus in poor western and central African countries where it causes almost zero deaths in healthy individuals. This naturally self-limiting virus was thus a most unlikely candidate for a new global health emergency and the fizzling out of both the disease and public interest is reflecting that reality.
Why, then, might the answer be no, the fear campaign is not over? Fundamentally, it is because fear is universal in nature, and a fearful world is ever-ready for the next public health emergency. In particular, the biosecurity-obsessed elites who populate generously-funded organisations such as CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness & Innovations) are constantly vigilant on our behalf for the next biological threat.
The CEO of CEPI, Dr. Richard Hatchett, wrote an article in May titled “Could monkeypox give us an R&D blueprint to end pandemics?”. Conjuring up the image of a smallpox-based bio-terrorist attack, he said that CEPI and its partners had built up a global stockpile of smallpox vaccine and anti-viral drugs for use in case of an outbreak. The idea of bio-terrorists weaponising an eradicated virus to trigger a highly unpredictable epidemic outbreak would seem to derive largely from the realms of fantasy. Even if groups with such unlikely aspirations exist, is there not a more practical and less astronomically expensive way of countering them? The greatest lesson of COVID-19 is surely that commonsense, plain truths and a sense of proportion are the first victims of the emergency measures taken by authorities.
CEPI, however, would keep us forever in a state of emergency. Dr. Hatchett writes:
COVID-19, and now monkeypox, have made us all too aware of an unfortunate biological truth: viruses do not respect borders. But if governments and industry can work together, transcending those same borders that viruses so effortlessly pass through, we can create a vaccine library with prototype vaccines against almost any viral threat.
As you might expect, CEPI received the enthusiastic backing of Mr. Tedros, who said in a key note speech at the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit on March 8th 2022: “Let me highlight three specific lessons as they relate to CEPI, our CEPI.” He argued that “a commitment to CEPI is commitment to science” and that “a fully funded CEPI is a commitment for better future”. “That’s why I welcome CEPI’s 100 Days Mission and urge donors to fully fund CEPI’s $3.5 billion U.S. dollar investment case,” he added.
CEPI is a WHO-mediated platform for the worldwide promotion of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics under the rubric of pandemic preparedness. Structurally, it is a coalition of big pharmaceutical companies which manufacture vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics, big financial and banking giants like Goldman Sachs, and private organisations like the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Founded at the Davos summit of WEF in 2017, it has persuaded most of the governments of the world to pump money into its coffers.
One of its central aims is to ensure vaccines are available for every disease outbreak. It does this by finding effective vaccine candidates before epidemics begin and stockpiling them for use. It also aims to develop vaccines against new and unknown pathogens.
Someone might reasonably ask, how will a vaccine get off the shelf of CEPI’s so-called vaccine library and into millions of arms within 100 days, if drug regulatory bodies will only approve them after due process?
CEPI has that covered. It has already brought on board regulatory bodies like the FDA and EMA, co-opting them as a part of its co-ordination group. The U.K.’s MHRA Chief Executive June Raine similarly boasted in May that she has transformed her regulator from a “watchdog” to an “enabler”. CEPI also has in its orbit numerous scientists and researchers on its scientific advisory committee, who are sure to provide the research papers necessary to support the grand endeavour.
Mr. Tedros in his keynote speech stated that in 2015, two years before CEPI was born, the WHO had “developed research roadmaps, target product profiles and trial designs” in relation to “priority diseases” including SARS, MERS and an unidentified “Disease X”, which he now identified with COVID-19. He added: “But of course, COVID-19 will not be the last Disease X… We are here to… prepare for and respond rapidly to future pandemics… This pandemic (COVID-19) is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere.”
Pandemic preparedness is thus a formidable two-pronged tool in the hands of global elites. On the one hand, there is the threat of perpetual pandemic held aloft, and on the other hand there shines the monkeypox-style blueprint of R&D for vaccines for all possible future outbreaks. This is the reason why the saga of monkeypox is not going to fizzle out with the temporary waning of co-ordinated noise.
As Mr. Tedros said: “The [COVID-19] pandemic has taught us the incredible power of surveillance, genomics, diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.” You have been warned.
Dr. Gautam Das is a medical doctor based in Kolkata, India practising family medicine.
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