Every American knows and cherishes Dr. Anthony Fauci. He’s the kind man on television who issues daily instructions about what must be done to prevent immediate death everywhere: Toddlers should be ‘double-diapered’ to ensure that nothing unsanitary comes out of their mouth-holes, etc. etc.
As director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, Fauci has used his remarkable administrative capabilities to funnel vast sums of taxpayer dollars into programs and initiatives that have shielded the public from the flu-like horrors of coronavirus.
But has he always possessed such superhuman pandemic-response skills? Let us briefly survey his distinguished career as Chief Virus Fighter to see if we might be able to answer this serpentine riddle.
Fifteen years ago, Fauci was summoned by the media to explain what the United States was going to do about the ‘bird flu’ crisis. What was bird flu? It was one of the worst potential pandemics in human history, with the World Health Organization projecting 7.4 million deaths globally as a “best-case scenario”. (They were close: Over a period of two years, around 150 people died from the scary flu strain, but that figure doesn’t include the innumerable Vietnamese farmers who starved to death after millions of their chickens were forcibly culled by health authorities.)
Everyone was understandably worried but luckily Fauci had a solution: Let’s load up on Tamiflu. Developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, the antiviral drug was widely hailed for its life-saving properties after it was credited with successfully quelling a bird flu outbreak among Dutch farmers in 2003.
During an appearance on C-SPAN in October 2005, Fauci claimed that the United States was “as prepared or better prepared than any other country” to deal with the impending mass casualty event, although he stressed that America’s survival would depend on more than just Tamiflu.
“Vaccines, Tamiflu, public health measures, surveillance capabilities – things like that,” Fauci said, explaining what would be used to beat back the avian plague once it reached America’s shores.
While acknowledging that there was no conclusive data showing that Tamiflu was effective against bird flu, Fauci stated that “we assume it will work” and that “there’s a reasonable assumption that it will work.”
Curiously, Fauci was less optimistic about Tamiflu’s bird flu-fighting powers when he was called to testify before the House Committee on International Relations just three months later, in January 2006.
As NPR reported at the time, he still supported stockpiling enormous amounts of Tamiflu – in fact, Fauci wanted enough pills to be able to medicate 25% of the country’s population. But, probably as a minor legal formality, he didn’t want lawmakers to get the wrong idea and view the drug as a silver bullet.
“We have no hard scientific data of how well this antiviral will perform under the conditions of a pandemic,” he told Congress, adding: “What this antiviral does is diminish the duration of symptoms by approximately a day and a half.”
(As a quick aside: The NPR article also quoted Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who insisted that Tamiflu “can provide a great deal of benefit” if given to patients before they develop severe flu symptoms. Although the article doesn’t mention it, Hayden was a paid consultant for Roche until at least 2004. NPR has the best expert commentaries.)
Fast-foward to April 2009: In response to the “public health emergency” created by an outbreak of H1N1 ‘swine flu’, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for Tamiflu. Maybe you have heard of EUAs? They have become very trendy in the last year or so.
Anyway, Roche received emergency approval to manufacture Tamiflu to “treat and prevent influenza in children under 1 year of age,” while GlaxoSmithKline was charged with pumping out a Tamiflu variant designed for adult consumption.
On April 29 – two days after Tamiflu’s EUA was issued – Fauci once again graced Congress with his presence, this time testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. When asked to provide an update on America’s pricey treasure chest of Tamiflu, and whether it would be useful in defeating the new Swine Menace, Fauci said: “Thankfully, the currently circulating 2009 H1N1 flu virus is sensitive to the two major antiviral drugs in our Strategic National Stockpile, Tamiflu and Relenza [the name for ‘adult’ Tamiflu].”
In layman’s terms: Fauci told the US Senate that Tamiflu was still a powerful weapon in America’s anti-pandemic arsenal.
Fauci was insistent. In August 2009, he said that Tamiflu had proven benefits when battling influenza, and urged its use among high-risk groups, particularly infants and pregnant women:
It was really bad. So bad that the FDA directed Roche to state on the drug’s label: “Tamiflu has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact) of seasonal, avian, or pandemic influenza.”
The FDA explained that clinical trials for Tamiflu “failed to demonstrate any significant difference in rates of hospitalization, complications, or mortality in patients receiving either Tamiflu or placebo.”
It wasn’t that Tamiflu was just borderline useless: There were also concerns, made public by the FDA, that the drug may be linked to potentially fatal heart problems.
This is not really what you want to hear after spending $1.5 billion stockpiling Tamiflu over the past four years as part of the country’s pandemic preparedness plan.
Does the Tamiflu Tale end here, with transparent fraud and heart failure? Nein. Things became discernably more embarrassing as reality caught up with Fauci’s “antiviral” pill-peddling.
The Cochrane Collaboration, a globally-respected independent medical research organization, revealed in 2014 that there was little or no evidence that Tamiflu was effective against influenza. For half a decade, Roche had hidden clinical trial data from the public. But once this information was reluctantly handed over, their miracle drug was exposed as snake oil.
It was bad:
Tamiflu (the antiviral drug oseltamivir) shortens symptoms of influenza by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza.
$1.5 billion for a pill that curtails symptoms by a whole 12 hours. That’s more than 100% less effective than Fauci’s already-underwhelming claim that Tamiflu reduces the length of flu symptoms by a whopping “day and a half.”
A year later, an article published by Fauci’s own National Institutes of Health (NIH) described Tamiflu’s fall from grace as a “fiasco” and urged for a return to evidence-based public health policy:
A cocktail of pandemic panic, publicity propaganda, and scientific misconduct turned a new medicine with only modest efficacy into a blockbuster. It appears that the multiple regulatory checks and balances gave way as science lost its primacy and pharmaceutical enterprise lost no time in making the most of it.
How did Fauci respond to these troubling developments? He covered his ears and screamed REEEE.
Speaking on C-SPAN in January 2018, America’s favorite doctor regurgitated his demonstrably false and depraved talking points about Tamiflu:
Even though it isn’t the perfect medication, it can really mitigate and prevent you from going on to more serious complications. So if you have the flu, and you get Tamiflu, you could prevent getting a serious complication, like a decrease of the hospitalization, decrease in dead. So there are benefits, even though it isn’t the perfect antiviral.
So Tamiflu went from reducing the length of symptoms by less than two days, to bringing people back from the dead? And he said this in 2018 – years after Tamiflu was exposed as basically useless, and perhaps even dangerous.
Which brings us to the present day.
Fauci is now synonymous with Science. But what happened to Tamiflu? Roche is currently being sued for $1.5 billion for defrauding the US government by misrepresenting the alleged effectiveness of its hugely profitable drug.
Meanwhile, Roche has received another FDA-issued Emergency Use Authorization – this time for a Covid-19 PCR test.
At least it doesn’t cause heart failure. Probably.
Riley Waggaman is Anti-Empire’s Moscow Correspondent