by Neville Hodgkinson
An awesome, sinister sense of déjà vu grows by the day. Suddenly, a second variant of the COVID-19 virus is said to be rampaging across Britain, just in time to create utter seasonal chaos and ensure that the loving spirit of Christmas does not obscure the fear we are all supposed to be experiencing.
It was much the same 35 years ago, when a panic over AIDS was being talked up by scientists to global proportions and an HIV variant, HIV-2, suddenly caught the headlines. The new purported villain added to the fear and led to an era in which any ideas or evidence as to the cause of AIDS that did not keep HIV centre stage were ruled out of order.
That was despite some experts, including top-ranking Nobel prize-winning scientists at the heart of the fight against AIDS, trying to let us know that HIV had never been established as the cause of the syndrome. They showed that both predictions of spread, and tests claiming to show infection with the virus, were invalid.
As now, an epidemic of inappropriate testing led to a false impression of a pandemic. Models predicting near-universal spread bore no relation to actual illness and death, which remained confined to relatively small sections of the population who had other risks in their lives.
The illusion was boosted by widespread use in “HIV-positive” patients of lethally high doses of a toxic drug, AZT, at a time when no other approach to treating AIDS was permitted. Doctors who dared challenge the zeitgeist were struck off the medical register.
After several years, AZT was proved useless, at best, in a major Anglo-French trial. It fell out of favour, and AIDS deaths dropped dramatically.
Yet a generation of young people was falsely led to equate sex with death by Health Department propaganda, supported to the hilt by mainstream media (with the notable exception of the Sunday Times under the editorship of Andrew Neil).
Billions of dollars (mainly American taxpayers’ money) went on a fruitless search for a vaccine, still, incredibly, continuing to this day.
Having reported AIDS conventionally for several years, in the 1980s, before realising the virus theory was fundamentally flawed, I know from experience how hard it can be to change direction. It is as though a kind of “herd insanity” takes a grip on one’s mind.
Media people, along with politicians and other professionals, are particularly vulnerable to enjoying a boost in their self-respect through feeling that they are helping to save lives by amplifying the scares.
This is a dangerous game that does not serve the public well.
It leads to a wartime mentality in which contrary voices find themselves excluded from research funds, peer approval, and publication – lifeblood of the scientific life. That’s why it took 25 years for the WHO to admit the threat of a global AIDS pandemic had been an illusion.
The late Dr Kary Mullis, winner of the 1993 Nobel prize for chemistry for inventing the gene-amplifying PCR (polymerase chain reaction) device, was accused by a prominent fellow scientist of “encouraging people to risk their lives” after he had declared there was no proof that HIV caused AIDS.
Mullis’s response was:
So what? I’m not a lifeguard, I’m a scientist. And I get up and say exactly what I think. I’m not going to change the facts around because I believe in something and feel like manipulating somebody’s behaviour by stretching what I really know… If you can’t figure out why you believe something, then you’d better make it clear that you’re speaking as a religious person, not as a scientist.
Despite seeing the same mistakes repeated now with COVID-19, there are differences today which give cause for hope that the illusions will not last as long.
- The impact of the current response is more globally damaging than with HIV/AIDS, causing far greater suffering and loss. Rebellion is growing.
- Despite being marginalised, and ignored currently by most governments, distinguished scientists with contrary views cannot be completely silenced, thanks to social media and the internet.
- It seems that with COVID-19 a genuine viral entity is involved – unlike with “HIV”. This means there is a chance of a successful vaccine. The manufacturers are using a specific genetic sequence, provided by the Chinese, to give cells resistance to a protein related to the virus’s ability to enter them. If it works, that will be a huge step forward; if it doesn’t, it will be a strong signal to review the science. “HIV”, in contrast, comprised a collection of naturally occurring sequences, with related proteins, assumed but never proven to relate to a unique entity capable of causing AIDS.
Safety and effectiveness of the new vaccines are far from proven as yet. Six more cases of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, were reported last week from America, leading to a fresh caution about the danger being issued by the Centres for Disease Control. Long-term effects, including an actual ability to protect against the disease as well as possible side-effects, remain to be established.
I feel sad that as a result of our inability to face up to and learn from the AIDS fiasco (and similar blunders – see Dr Janie Axelrad on Mad Cow Disease, LS October 27th) Christmas is being ruined for millions by repetition of the same mistakes, and even with some of the same people involved. We learned yesterday that Professor Neil Ferguson, of London’s Imperial College, whose unit’s disease-modelling has repeatedly produced over-inflated predictions, has been reinstated as a government adviser and was involved in the Christmas shutdown decision.
Neville Hodgkinson is a former medical and science correspondent of the Daily Mail and Sunday Times, and the author of AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science (Fourth Estate, 1996).