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Bird Flu, Fear, and Perverse Incentives

Bird Flu, Fear, and Perverse Incentives

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A 59-year-old man unfortunately died in Mexico in late April. Having been bed-bound for weeks and suffering from type-2 diabetes and chronic renal failure, he was at high risk from respiratory virus infection. 

It became newsworthy, and the World Health Organization thousands of miles distant even released a media statement, because recent advances in genetic sequencing allowed the presence of Type A (H5N2) influenza virus – a type of bird flu – to be reported in a single clinical sample a month later. Refuting the WHO’s distant bureaucrats attributing mortality to the virus, Mexico’s health secretary is reported as noting that it was chronic illness that caused the death.

Irrespective of cause, deaths are a tragedy for family and friends. This one made global news purely because of advances in diagnostic technology. The WHO, the media, and a growing pandemic industry had been waiting for this inevitable event, testing and screening, as it is critical to perhaps the largest business scheme in human history. There are hundreds of billions on the table, and the will and means to take it. We all need to understand why, and what is supposed to happen next.

Covid and the Resetting of Public Health

Covid-19 has proven the business case for gain-of-function research. It looks increasingly likely that some genetic fiddling really did succeed in moving a bat coronavirus into humans, where it is more amenable to monetization (there is no profit in sick bats, or fear of them). Importantly, despite the broad economic and health catastrophe that followed, those behind the program are continuing much the same work, and not being held to account. There is vast profit with little or no real risk.

However, what the Covid episode really demonstrated is the financial and political gains that can be achieved irrespective of outbreak severity. As Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret pointed out in mid-2020 in their book Covid-19: The Great Reset, Covid-19 can be used to subvert post-World War II concepts of democracy and human rights and return society to a corporate authoritarian model (“Stakeholder Capitalism”), even though the illness is usually mild. 

What is needed is a shared narrative among those who stand to benefit; media, governments, and the corporate world. While the term “Great Reset” seems to have been discarded as unpopular, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) stated intent to penetrate governments and change society to the benefit of their members is clearly undiminished.

Devastating mortality is not needed to drive societal change; just the fear of it. You need a test, visuals such as masks and circles on the pavement, a dependent media, and a research and health establishment whose career opportunities are dependent on compliance. The ramping up of surveillance for the vast sea of viral variants that is nature has just been officially confirmed through the adoption of amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. Irrespective of the reality of risk or the massively disproportionate public funding required, the world is going to find a lot more potential threats, and is building a whole industry that will ensure they translate into corporate profit.

The Opportunity of Influenza

Avian influenza, or bird flu, has been around perhaps as long as birds (so was likely a dinosaur malady in Cretaceous times). Humans must have lived alongside it for over 200,000 years, and our primate ancestors far longer. Bird flu viruses are part of a range of variants of the influenza virus family that undergo regular mutation and recombination (even mixing genome from viruses that normally infect different species) that makes them appear relatively new to our immune system. This makes them more harmful and results in a new influenza outbreak almost every year, as our immunity from the last one (or from a prior influenza vaccine) only partially addresses the next. 

Sometimes, recombination allows an influenza virus that is mostly confined to other animals, such as birds, to undergo a wider shift that allows it to infect other species, such as humans. This is similar to what scientists sometimes try to simulate in the lab through ‘gain-of-function’ research, such as modifying bat coronaviruses to become pathogenic to humans.

Humans have always lived in very close proximity with, and eaten, animals that harbor influenza viruses. The last major ‘spillover’ of influenza from birds to humans was the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-19. It killed perhaps 20 to 40 million people, most probably due to secondary bacterial pneumonia as there were no modern antibiotics. In the century since, an event of this nature has not recurred, and with modern antibiotics and medical care, the mortality of the Spanish flu should now be far lower.

So, why are we seeing the current hysteria regarding bird flu, and why is the media promoting narratives such as potential mortality massively greater than the Spanish flu or any influenza outbreak in human history? The answer, presumably, lies earlier in this article. A very wealthy corporate and financial sector that is influential over governments and media that knows, and has demonstrated, that wealth can be concentrated to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars through fear of a virus.

There is now a rapidly expanding army of virologists, ‘virus hunters,’ public health bureaucrats, and modelers whose sole reason for receiving funding is to find and publicize new variants of viruses. We have international public-private partnerships devoted to developing and distributing vaccines for such events, supported by taxpayer funding. We also have a draft pandemic treaty that has just been deferred by the WHA, intended to further increase public funding for this private good. From an industry viewpoint, its rapid passage in the coming months would benefit from fear and urgency.

Making Bird Flu Work

Declaration of a bird flu pandemic therefore looks almost inevitable, whether facilitated by ongoing gain-of-function research and a lab leak, or through a natural passage to humans. This inevitability is not so much because it is a real and existential threat, but rather because the industry – the financial-Pharma-media-public health complex that has arisen before and through Covid, needs it. The virus is real. The threat can also be made to appear existential. It is likely to proceed with something like the scenario below.

Traces of genome and even whole viruses can be found in raw agricultural produce. Testing these, and human sewage (contaminated with virus from birds or humans), is already underway and will demonstrate this. Genome has already been found in milk, probably because we looked for it – this has probably also happened often, undetected, before.

Extensive testing of workers on chicken farms and on farms where other infected animals are housed (e.g. dairy herds) will find people who test positive for the virus. Biology is highly variable and some people will establish short-lived mild infections. A few will become severely ill and die due to some immune deficiency or factors such as a very high infective dose. Once listed as a rare pneumonia of unknown cause, such infections can now be definitively pinned as bird flu and used very effectively by media to increase viewership. Within the public health community, these occurrences promote salary and research funding and are extremely important.

Mass killing (culling) at chicken farms. This won’t halt spread, as spread mainly occurs through wild bird species. It could theoretically protect workers from the low (but not zero) risk they face. Importantly, it makes news and promotes a perception that something really bad is afoot. Those who order culls do not suffer from them, and industrial chicken producers are compensated by taxpayers, who will also pay more for eggs and chicken meat. Left unchecked, many chickens would have died in an outbreak, while some would have survived.

Mass killing of secondary hosts such as cattle. Again, a low risk to humans. It is also relatively easy to quarantine cattle herds until an outbreak has run its course. However, culling creates publicity and the impression of a dynamic, desperate response, important in creating a sense of a public health sector scrambling to save the public. It also supports a movement claiming that farming for meat should be replaced by highly processed factory-derived alternative foods, an alternative that is struggling for market share. The fake meat industry is supported by some of the same major investors as Pharma, who are very vocal in the pandemic agenda. 

Modeling to demonstrate potential mass death within the population. The major modeling groups (e.g. Imperial College London, University of Washington, Gates Foundation) are funded by entities who are invested in Pharma and gained greatly from Covid-19. Modelers understand outcomes that benefit sponsors, which may have influenced the emphasis on worst-case and highly unrealistic outcomes during Covid-19.

Requirement for mass vaccination (or killing) of backyard chickens to keep the community safe. The concept of ‘greater good’ is the most popular of the concepts that underpin fascism, and can be used to ensure broad compliance, with vilification of non-compliers being the penalty. This was used widely by pro-corporate politicians such as Justin Trudeau to isolate and denigrate those who wanted to weigh harms against the benefits of Covid vaccines or supported the concept of bodily autonomy. The UK and Ireland recently introduced a requirement to register all backyard chickens, to facilitate this process.

Requirement for vaccination of chicken owners – owners of every farm or backyard hen. This will be sold as further protecting their neighbors and communities. Those refusing will be portrayed as ‘putting their entire communities at risk, especially ‘the most vulnerable.’ This message, however distanced from context and reality, is very powerful and the media demonstrated during Covid how willing they are to exploit such division and scapegoating.

Lockdowns, school closures, closure of smaller workplaces. As during Covid, this will involve mainly those lacking influence at WEF and similar forums. There will be some deaths in the community, and even busy ICUs from influenza or other causes. The busy ICUs will be highlighted as unusual (which, of course, they are not) to promote a need to ‘all pull together’ and overcome the threat. This is a difficult message to counter, as on a superficial level such fascistic greater good claims make support for individual choice, fundamental to free societies, difficult.

Population-wide mass vaccination. Mass vaccination can be promoted as inconvenient but necessary as an all-in community safety issue. Although people may be more resistant as harms from Covid vaccination become more widely acknowledged, bird flu is already being portrayed as potentially far worse. The vaccine will be pitched as a way to get freedoms back, a form of coercion once anathema in public health but now mainstream. With hundreds of billions in Pharma sales at stake, it is an extremely hard train to stop. Billions spent on advertising, political sponsorship, and propaganda are literally minor business expenses.

The order of the above steps, and the emphasis, may change. None of the steps will stop bird flu. It spreads through wild bird species and will continue to do so. Occasionally, it will spill over into humans. Very occasionally these will cause a significant outbreak. The Spanish flu was a bad example, but life rapidly went back to normal.

Managing Perceptions

In the century since the Spanish flu, influenza outbreaks have continued to resolve naturally with little change in human behavior, but steadily building alarm. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 had been shrugged off as an annoyance and didn’t even stop Woodstock. The SARS outbreak in 2003 (a coronavirus, not influenza) promoted widespread fear, yet killed in total the same as die every 8 hours from tuberculosis. The Swine flu outbreak of 2009, which killed less than normal seasonal influenza, precipitated an international crisis. Pandemics, though real, are mostly about perceptions. So is the response.

The pandemic industry has become far better, and more systematic, at managing perceptions. This is the whole basis on which the behavioral psychology of government ‘nudge units’ was based during Covid. The aim was not a calculated overall public good, but to promote a particular set of public behaviors to address a narrowly defined threat. This is now underway for bird flu. A large part of the populace will comply with increasingly strict measures, not because they have been presented accurate information in context upon which they can make rational choices, but because they are fooled, or coerced, into behaviors they would not normally follow. They will accept restrictions and interventions that they would normally resist.

Unless wider society regains control of the agenda, the Pharma industry and its investors are set to make a killing through bird flu. It will be at least as big as Covid. It will also serve an important role in further building the pandemic industry, justifying the finalization of the postponed WHO Pandemic Agreement (treaty). It is a vital cog in the Great Reset.

Outbreaks do occur and we should monitor and prepare for them. However, we have allowed the development of a system where outbreaks are almost all that matter. Perceptions of risk, and resultant funding, have become grossly disproportionate to reality. The perverse incentives driving this are obvious, as are the harms. The world will be increasingly unequal and impoverished, and sick, building on the outcomes of the Covid response. Fear promotes profit better than calmness and context. It is on us to remain calm and continually educate ourselves regarding context. No one will sell these to us.



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Author

  • David Bell

    David Bell, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a public health physician and biotech consultant in global health. He is a former medical officer and scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, WA, USA.

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