The swine flu pandemic isn’t a simple situation. But it’s straightforward enough — a race to make enough vaccine to treat hundreds of millions of people before they’re sickened by a particularly virulent strain of flu virus, which is being spread worldwide thanks to a highly mobile global population.
Straightforward, that is, until you start looking around on the Internet, where the prospect of an H1N1 vaccine has produced some extra-strength crazy. And that’s saying something, given the tendency within American culture to believe that someone or something is out to get us — and that it’s in cahoots with all the others who are out to get us, too.
Vaccination paranoia isn’t limited to either the right or the left. "The usual photofit picture of the conspiracy theorist is an obsessive, petty-minded right-wing paranoid nut…with a dangerous tendency to single out the usual suspects as scapegoats,” wrote Peter Knight in his 2000 book, Conspiracy Culture: From Kennedy to The X-Files. “[H]owever, the images and rhetoric of conspiracy are no longer the exclusive house-style of the terminally paranoid," or about trying to rationalize the rare world-shattering event, such as the assassination of a president. Instead, Knight suggests, they’ve become expressions of “a not entirely unfounded suspicion that the normal order of things itself amounts to a conspiracy… of clandestine, conspiring forces in a world in which everything is connected."
The various conspiracy memes typically build off ideas already in long circulation. Under the rubric of “It’ll kill ya,” Joseph Mercola, a blogging doctor of osteopathy, has gained some traction online with his scare piece, “Squalene: The Swine Flu Vaccine’s Dirty Little Secret Exposed.”
Mercola argues that a jab of the biochemical squalene, which is being added to H1N1 vaccine by some manufacturers as an adjuvant (a substance that helps trigger a reaction to the antigen), will destroy your immune system. “Injection is an abnormal route of entry,” writes Mercola, “which incites your immune system to attack all the squalene in your body, not just the vaccine adjuvant.”
Squalene fears go back to the 1990s, when some suspected that a squalene-baesd adjuvant in anthrax vaccines was causing serious health problems for vets returning from the first Gulf War, a k a “Gulf War Syndrome.” Although squalene has long been absolved of GWS by credible research [see Resources], Mercola cherry picks the science by citing the one study that supports his worldview and ignoring the rest.
Why, in Mercola’s World, would a pharmaceutical company adulterate a vaccine with a dangerous adjuvant? Because then it could use less antigen per dose, make more doses, and rake in even more riches from fat government health contracts — an update of the “it’s all about the corporate profits” conspiracy theory to the H1N1 era. (Never mind that health care providers make a lot more money providing care and medicines to sick people than they do by inoculating them against disease.)
Conspiracy theories sometimes are triggered by real-world events. The “corporate profits” paranoia may have been nurtured by mainstream business reporting, which has featured headlines like “Firms Look to Prevent Swine Flu Pandemic, Turn a Profit,” “Drug groups to reap swine-flu billions,” and “Inventor of Tamiflu profits from swine flu pandemic.”
Who else could benefit from a swine flu epidemic? President Obama, of course, who will create a fake public health crisis in order to nationalize health care, force every American to get vaccinated, declare martial law, and use the vaccine as a “eugenics weapon for mass extermination” of the American population. [See Resources] Some conspiracy theorists combine the forced vaccination and eugenics memes into an overarching theory that H1N1 vaccines are actually a form of “pharmaceutical bioterrorism.” [See Resources]
And then there’s the “diseased African green monkeys” theory, which merges multiple conspiracy memes to achieve a jewel-like near-perfection — employing lurid yet unrelated details to knit a string of random facts into a colorful whole cloth of paranoia.
Authored by a natural heath enthusiast named Mike Adams, self-dubbed the “Health Ranger,” his thesis is that two powerful, secretive, and scandal-linked corporations — massive defense contractor DynCorp and pharma giant Baxter International — are in cahoots with the federal government and national health agencies. They intend to use a swine flu scare to defraud American taxpayers of billions of dollars. In the process, the body public will also be violated literally, with injections of a tainted vaccine that could kill them.
Adams published his exegesis on August 5 on his web site NaturalNews.com. It was picked up by FreeRepublic.com, a popular online nexus of right-wing nutty goodness. In less than one month, the meme had spread to well over one million web sites, and goes something like this:
DynCorp and the National Institutes of Health, a US government agency, jointly hold four patents for a technique to produce a virus vaccine from an African green monkey kidney cell line — that is, a biological substance derived using cells from the kidneys of African green monkeys. [See Resources]
One of the researchers named on the patents is Dr. Robert Purcell, Co-Chief of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, which is a U.S. Government funded research institution. The suburban Maryland headquarters of the NIH is about 15 miles from the headquarters of DynCorp. Both in turn are very, very near to Washington D.C., where government officials have awarded a swine flu vaccine manufacturing contract for over $1 billion to Baxter International.
Baxter is making the vaccine using its proprietary “Vero cell culture technology,” which is derived from epithelial kidney cells of African green monkeys. This is, Adams assumes, more or less the same process detailed in those patents jointly held by NIH and DynCorp.
1: H1N1 spread into from Mexico into the United States.
2: DynCorp does law enforcement and security-related work in Mexico.
3: Ding ding ding: The circle closes, and we have a conspiracy.
Here’s how well it holds up:
Adams, who describes himself as “the son of a Pfizer contractor and a clinical trial tester for some of America’s biggest pharmaceutical companies”, is apparently shocked that African green monkeys are routinely infected and killed for medical research [See Resources) and humans are dosed with the results.
The four patents that connect the primary actors in their web of deceit were registered between 1997 and 2000. At the time, DynCorp was in a partnership with a firm called Porton International. The two formed a subsidiary named “DynPort Vaccine Company” to develop “biodefense products” — vaccines against smallpox and anthrax, for instance.
Checking in on the Conspirators
In 2003, DynCorp was purchased by an enormous global consulting firm called Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), according to DynCorp spokesman Jason Rossbach. CSC spun off DynCorp International as an independent company in 2005, but kept DynPort as a wholly owned subsidiary. I started there, in my quick round up of the conspirators. “Dyncorp International LLC has nothing to do with those patents,” Rossbach told me. “That has to do with a CSC company. Please contact them.”
April Finnen, a spokeswoman for DynPort, said it would take two months for the company’s legal department to look into the four patents. However, she says, the company is “not involved with H1N1 vaccine development at this time.”
As for Baxter International, the company is not supplying swine flu vaccine to the U.S. Period.
The company “is not able to distribute pandemic vaccine in the U.S., because the U.S. government requires license for a seasonal vaccine first, and Baxter doesn’t currently have that license,” says Chris Bona, a spokesman for Baxter Biosciences. While Baxter has contracts to distribute vaccine in five countries including Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand, “we don’t have an agreement with the United States,” Bona says, adding that the company is producing all its H1N1 vaccine at facilities in Austria and the Czech Republic.