WHO declares flu pandemic over

GENEVA — The World Health Organization acknowledged Tuesday that the swine flu pandemic is finally over, long after many national authorities started cancelling vaccine orders and shutting down telephone hot lines as the disease ebbed from the headlines.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization acknowledged Tuesday that the swine flu pandemic is finally over, long after many national authorities started cancelling vaccine orders and shutting down telephone hot lines as the disease ebbed from the headlines.

The official death toll — once predicted to be in the millions — reached 18,449 last week and WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said she agreed with experts that swine flu has “largely run its course.”

“This pandemic has turned out to be much more fortunate than what we feared a little over a year ago,” Chan said.

While the Hong Kong-born UN health chief put this down to good preparation and luck — the virus didn’t mutate as some feared — the admission that swine flu isn’t the threat it was made out to be could be seized on by critics who say the global body hyped the pandemic.

WHO received at least US$170 million from member states to deal with the outbreak, some of which was invested in immunization programs long after the A(H1N1) strain was known to provoke only mild illness in most of those infected. Governments spent many times that amount buying vaccines and antiviral medicines that are now being junked.

In Canada, a statement Tuesday from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s office said that the government was pleased with its response to the H1N1 pandemic.

“This country is a global model for its safe and effective rollout of a pandemic vaccine campaign which resulted in a successful rate of about 45 per cent of Canadians who rolled up their sleeves,” media relations officer Jenny Van Alstyne said in an email.

“This high vaccination rate played a critical role in the prevention and spread of the virus.”

Between April 28, 2009, and April 3, 2010, there were 428 deaths and 8,678 hospitalizations with H1N1 reported in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada stopped reporting on H1N1 specific hospitalizations and deaths in the spring.

Legislators in Europe have repeatedly accused WHO of overstating the danger of swine flu and playing into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, which has earned millions from the outbreak since it began in April 2009.

Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations, said the criticism was unfair and WHO did the best they could.

“People are very skeptical of virtually everything that has to do with the government, the scientific community and when you add pharma into it, there is even more suspicion,” he said, describing the outbreak as a “no-win situation” for WHO.

Chan insisted that declaring swine flu a pandemic last June was “the right call” based on the international health rules that existed at the time, which measure only the geographic spread of the disease and not its severity.

But she acknowledged that changes may be made to the way WHO defines pandemics. “We need to review the phases, including the severity,” Chan told reporters in a telephone briefing Tuesday.

She cautioned against complacency, however, saying that even though hospitalizations and deaths have dropped sharply, countries should still keep a watchful eye for unusual patterns of infection and mutations that might render existing vaccines and antiviral drugs ineffective.

“It is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups,” she said, urging high-risk groups such as pregnant women to continue seeking vaccination.

Unusually, swine flu hits young adults harder than the over-65s, who are believed to have some immunity to the A(H1N1) strain.

Chan also stressed the positives from the pandemic, such as the fact that the international community came to the aid of poorer countries unable to purchase vaccine stocks, and that as many as two in five people in some countries now have immunity to the virus.

Prof. Angus Nicoll, flu program co-ordinator at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said the decision to declare the pandemic over was consistent with the Stockholm-based body’s recent findings.

But health officials around the world should prepare for a new type of seasonal flu to appear in the near future that will combine elements of swine flu, an older A(H3N2) strain and several lesser types of influenza, said Nicoll.

Should that mixture turn out to be more lethal the swine flu, countries now have a better understanding of how to respond, according to Bill Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The most important lesson learned from this experience is the critical need for new influenza manufacturing processes,” said Hall.

Chan, in her exchange with journalists, also raised the spectre of deadlier flu pandemics in future.

“Lurking in the background we still have H5N1,” she said, a reference to the bird flu strain that has infected 503 people over seven years, killing 299.

———

— With files from The Canadian Press. Associated Press writers Daphne Rousseau in Paris, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and AP medical writer Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The QEII was closed Sunday morning due to a pole fire. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
UPDATE: QEII near Red Deer reopens

The QEII has been reopened after being closed due to a pole… Continue reading

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Bashaw RCMP investigate fatal collision in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP are investigating after a fatal collision Saturday afternoon. Police were… Continue reading

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It's not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he'd been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

DELIA, Alta. — It’s not often police can report that a unicorn… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Federal government to send health-care workers to Ontario, Trudeau says

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal departments and some Canadian… Continue reading

People cross a busy street in the shopping district of Flushing on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in the Queens borough of New York. Access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is growing by the day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kathy Willens
Despite COVID-19 vaccines, Americans in D.C. not feeling celebratory — or charitable

WASHINGTON — This might make Canadians jealous of their American cousins for… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Half of U.S. adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot

WASHINGTON — Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at… Continue reading

A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2021. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Memorial service in Nova Scotia marks one year since mass shooting started

TRURO, N.S. — A memorial service is planned for today in central… Continue reading

In this April 23, 2016, photo, David Goethel sorts cod and haddock while fishing off the coast of New Hampshire. To Goethel, cod represents his identity, his ticket to middle class life, and his link to one the country's most historic industries, a fisherman who has caught New England's most recognized fish for more than 30 years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
‘It’s more than just a fish:’ Scientists worry cod will never come back in N.L.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The latest assessment of Atlantic cod stocks, whose… Continue reading

FILE - In this Friday Aug. 21, 2020 file photo, Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, addresses the media in Berlin, Germany. Activists for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are calling for massive protests in the heart of Moscow and St. Petersburg as Navalny's health reportedly is deteriorating severely while on hunger strike. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Navalny, said the demonstrations are called on short notice for Wednesday April 21, 2021, because "his life hangs in the balance. ... We don't know how long he can hold on." (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Navalny’s team calls protests amid reports of failing health

MOSCOW — Associates of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called Sunday… Continue reading

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. DeSantis has received a single-dose coronavirus vaccine. His office confirmed Wednesday, April 7, 2021 that the Republican governor got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single dose. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, file)
GOP White House hopefuls move forward as Trump considers run

WASHINGTON — Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left… Continue reading

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read