Dr Janie Axelrad

A Feeling of Deja Vu

by Dr Janie Axelrad Neil Ferguson predicted 50,000 deaths from Mad Cow Disease. The actual number was 178. Thirty years ago the U.K. was gripped by another terrifying health crisis – BSE (Mad Cow Disease). The suggestion that one teaspoon of beef from an infected cow could pass the disease to humans as CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease), a neurodegenerative disease with no cure, caused mass hysteria both in the media and then the general public. We were all doomed. Both the BSE crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic needed a group of experts. For the BSE crisis, epidemiologists, computer modellers, microbiologists and others were assembled on the committee known as SEAC (the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee). For the COVID-19 pandemic, a similar but larger committee, SAGE, was assembled for the task. Both committees suggested huge numbers of deaths would occur in the absence of intervention. With COVID-19, the estimate by the computer modelling team at Imperial College London was 500,000 deaths, whereas for BSE/CJD the figure was up to 50,000 deaths. Both sets of predictions led to a media-fuelled frenzy and spurred the sitting Governments into action. Once the ‘experts’ outlined the scientific narrative, the next step in each crisis involved sensationalisation. With BSE the news was filled with images of staggering cows, and soon with young people dying with similar symptoms....

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December 2022
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