Vaccine manufacturers yesterday strongly rejected claims that they help to engineer a “false” swine flu pandemic in order to promote their patented products.

“The vaccine industry did what it was asked to do,” Dr Luc Hessel, executive director for medical and public affairs, Europe at Sanofi Pasteur MSD, told a public hearing held yesterday in Strasbourg by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

“The industry’s role is to produce safe vaccines in a timely manner and respond to government’s requests,” said Dr Hessel, who was speaking on behalf of the industry group European Vaccine Manufacturers (EVM), where he chairs the public health policy and advocacy working group.

“The industry responded quickly effectively and was able to deliver the vaccines ordered by governments,” he said, adding that while it was too early to speculate on the overall return for companies from delivering the products, he believed that the industry had been “a responsible and reliable partner.”

The public hearing was held by the PACE Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs to discuss a motion proposed by German politician and epidemiologist Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, accusing drug and vaccine makers of influencing scientists and official agencies “to alarm governments worldwide” for commercial gain, making them “squander tight health care resources for inefficient vaccines strategies and needlessly [exposing] millions of healthy people to the risk of unknown side-effects of insufficiently tested vaccines.”

“Pandemic vaccines were properly developed and tested – for the first time in history, vaccines were available shortly after the declaration of a pandemic,” responded Dr Hessel.

Ahead of the hearing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a statement dismissing Dr Wodarg’s claims of improper influence by the industry. The agency stressed that takes its work of providing independent influence to its member states seriously and guards against the influence of improper interests.

“Allegations that WHO created a ‘fake’ pandemic to bring economic benefit to industry are scientifically wrong and historically incorrect,” said the WHO in its statement, and addressing yesterday’s hearing, Dr Keiji Fukuda, special advisor on pandemic influenza to the WHO director-general, stressed: “the labelling of the pandemic as ‘fake’ is to ignore recent history and science and to trivialize the deaths of over 14,000 people and the many additional serious illnesses experienced by others.”

“The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is wrong and irresponsible,” said Dr Fukuda.