MPs hear about serious failures of governance, ethics and accountability at state and supranational level

The Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group this month heard updates on findings from two previous speakers. Molly Kingsley, children’s campaigner and co-founder of Us for Them, spoke to the Group about new book The Accountability Deficit, written with co-campaigners Arabella Skinner and Ben Kingsley.

Dr David Bell, a clinical and public health physician with a PhD in population health and former WHO scientific and medical officer then updated the Group on his work, with a team at the University of Leeds led by Professor Garrett Brown, on the REPPARE project “REevaluating the Pandemic Preparedness And REsponse agenda”.

Speaking about revelations in the book, Molly Kingsley said: “I believe the subtitle of the book, ‘how ministers and officials evaded accountability, misled the public and violated democracy during the pandemic’, is an accurate reflection of what happened during the pandemic. The book came about after we started researching the regulatory framework for the pharma industry following our successful action against Pfizer for misleading parents in relation to the safety of their Covid product.  We were shocked by what we found.  As lawyers, we were also interested in how pandemic decisions were made, and the apparent lack of good governance and ethics in many of the key decisions we had witnessed.  Among the key findings documented in our book is the brief existence and premature demise of the UK’s Moral and Ethical Advisory Group (MEAG), a Government-appointed advisory group established in late 2019 by the Department for Health and Social Care to inform, among other things, the ethical aspects of health policy.

“After the Covid pandemic was declared, MEAG advised on a number of ethically contentious pandemic response policies, including Covid passes and care home vaccine mandates.  The public records of MEAG’s meetings show that as the group’s advice became more critical of government policy, it became sidelined by government.  Astonishingly, in January 2021, after the group had raised serious concerns about Covid passes, the CMO Chris Whitty is reported as having 'counselled against the Group producing documentation that offered recommendations, given the political aspect of decision making'.

"Later that year, as the Group sought to intervene in deliberations about extending the Covid vaccination program to children, official records show that the Group was diverted from considering pandemic topics and was then prematurely demobilised for good.  As a result, ethical concerns about pandemic policies appear to have been absent from key decisions including those impacting millions of children. When you factor in the levels of censorship of commentators and campaigners critical to government policy, including those such as UsForThem who were urging a more ethical approach to policy-making, it paints a chilling picture.”

Talking about the REPPARE project, Dr Bell expressed his continued concern: “The evidence-base to support what is being proposed in the new World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Agreement and amendments to the International Health Regulations, and to justify the urgency, scale and coercive nature of these accords is demonstrably weak. The WHO’s Member states are being asked to adopt the finalised accords at the May 2024 World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting with virtually no scrutiny at parliamentary level, so no understanding of the enormous cost estimates and high level of investment currently being suggested for the pandemic agenda, which will inevitably divert resources away from more pressing public health issues such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS. Prof Garrett Brown, I and a team at the University of Leeds have scrutinised the World Bank and G20 reports that are paving the way for these accords and found the analyses upon which it is based are highly questionable, even to the extent that the World Bank and G20's reports misrepresents their underlying data and references.

“These accords constitute a major centralisation of power, vesting authority in a supranational organisation that bows to corporate interests and demands over the sort of public health policy it was set up to advocate. The accords in their current form represent a significant threat to human rights, Article 3 of the proposed IHR amendments removes protections for human rights and to good global public health policy, with panic around a hypothetical and demonstrably unlikely Disease-X being used to pressure Member states to adopt both instruments by May 2024.

“The financial commitments are eye watering, an additional $31 billion per year for the next five years and $10.5 billion additional funding in new Overseas Development Assistance. For context, the entire current WHO annual budget is about $3.6 billion and I don’t think most parliamentarians have any understanding of the implications of what is being proposed. Quite simply, the urgency is unfounded. Major natural pandemics are rare, happening historically less than one per lifetime in the past century. We need to pause and have time to think more carefully about what is actually being proposed.”

Listening to the speakers, Pandemic Response and Recovery APPG Co-Chair Lord Strathcarron said: “I am concerned having heard the testimony of both our speakers. To hear that we had a Moral and Ethical Advisory Group that was ignored, silenced and then disbanded when it should have been at the forefront of advice given to the government, is an extraordinary indictment. That government advisors, such as Chris Whitty, the then Chief Medical Officer, attempted to censor their reporting, to respond to the valid concerns of such a Group in this way is shocking. At the very least, the Covid Inquiry should have devoted a Module to the denial of ethics, but it has not, another example of the dire way in which the management of the pandemic is being swept under the carpet. My concern about the REPPARE project findings is no less great. Last year, I asked for a debate on pandemic preparedness in the House of Lords but was refused.

“I think the transfer of sovereignty that the amendments to the International Health Regulations could allow would be a mistake and the confected hysteria surrounding Disease-X shows that we have learnt nothing from the Covid pandemic, nor the H1N1 2009 pandemic before it. Parliamentarians should be asking why resources need to be directed at trying to prevent pandemics when the evidence seems to show they happen no more than once in a lifetime. Do we really want to see the decision to declare a pandemic transferred from nation states to a supranational body? It would be a loss of sovereignty and one which is funded by considerable vested private and corporate interests. There’s also the staggering financial commitment Member states will be asked to make, an additional $31 billion per year for the next five years. We must pause this pandemic preparedness juggernaut and defer the vote to adopt these binding instruments in favour of urgent parliamentary scrutiny and debate.”

Biographies of the speakers

Molly Kingsley is a co-founder of UsForThem, journalist and former lawyer. Together with others in the UsForThem team she has led multiple national political, media and letter writing campaigns advocating for children to be prioritised during the pandemic. She is co-author of The Children's Inquiry, and writes frequently for national print and online media including the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and The Critic, and is a regular commentator on issues impacting children.

Dr David Bell is a clinical and public health physician with a PhD in population health and background in internal medicine, modelling and epidemiology of infectious disease. He has worked in global health and biotech for the past 20 years. Previously, he was Director of the Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in the USA, Programme Head for Malaria and Acute Febrile Disease at FIND in Geneva, and worked in infectious diseases and coordinated malaria diagnostics strategy at the World Health Organization. He currently consults in biotech and international public health, and is a senior scholar of the Brownstone Institute.

View the full minutes for this meeting, held on Monday 22 January 2024

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