FMD - UPDATE 18
Professor Roy Anderson and vaccination
Dr. Richard A.E. North
Thursday 19 July 2001
THE START of the current foot and mouth epidemic was not, as the
government would have us believe, in February. The probable start was
some time in September.
It is something of a curious coincidence, therefore, that in the
period immediately prior to this month, there had been running synthetic
FMD vaccine trials in four countries: the U.S. Taiwan, China and the
United Kingdom. Since this involved injecting pigs with the vaccine and
then exposing them to live FMD virus, somewhere in the UK prior to the
start of the FMD epidemic, pigs were being deliberately infected with
It is even more curious that the UK trial was reportedly due to
finish in September 2000, just about the time that FMD probably started.
However, few more details are known about the trial. Of the two
countries which opted to sign a secrecy agreement, the UK was one.
China was the other. Nevertheless, it is known that a firm called
United Biomedical Inc produced the vaccine, and the UK trial was carried
out by an un-named "partner". Although this "partner" is un-named, UBI
has licensing agreements on other vaccines with Merial UK, which is the
sole FMD vaccine manufacturer in the UK.
After the first case was confirmed on February 20, the Ministry of
Agriculture enlisted its own epidemiologist, Prof John Wilesmith of the
Veterinary Laboratories Agency, a veteran of BSE, to model the
At his disposal was a "decision support system" called EpiMAN, which
can help predict the course of an epidemic, and develop strategy, using
a tool called Interspread to model its spread across the country. But
this system was never used in action, owing to the intervention of an
additional curiosity, Professor Roy Anderson.
The singular oddity here is how quickly he became involved in the
management of the epidemic, as his background is primarily in human
health. As head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at
Imperial College Medical School - and formerly head of the Wellcome
Trust Centre for Epidemiology of Infectious Disease at Oxford University
- his main interests have been human diseases such as AIDS, malaria and
tuberculosis, mainly from a global perspective. He had also taken a
close interest in measles, mumps and rubella vaccination.
However, his team had taken an interest in BSE, while Anderson had
got himself appointed to the government's Spongiform Encephalopathy
Advisory Committee (SEAC), although his input - and public
pronouncements - remain controversial. As well as that, his interests
included being a director and 30 percent shareholder of the
International Biomedical and Health Sciences Consortium, and he is a
scientific consultant to Abbott Pharmaceuticals, a major US company.
Additionally, he is consultant to SKS Scientific (presumably Smith Kline
Beecham), and has links with the Hamburg Institute of Tropical
Scientific Advisory Board Medicine
One of the members of Prof. Anderson's research team was a young
lady called Dr Christl Donnelly, a statistician, and, in yet another
curious coincidence, she just happened to publish in October 2000 in
Veterinary Science an analytical paper on the 1967 foot and mouth
epidemic - a month or so after foot and mouth disease for real probably
struck this country. Why Donnelly should have so suddenly developed an
interest in an animal disease, has not been explained.
This notwithstanding, the paper effectively staked a claim for
Anderson's team as having some expertise in FMD. And when the current
FMD epidemic was finally detected in February, Anderson was extremely
quick off the mark. By the end of the month, unasked and uninvited, he
had assembled his team at Imperial College and had it working up
computer models of the epidemic. By 6 March, his team was ready to make
a presentation of its "findings".
Yet another curiosity intervened here as the presentation was not
made to MAFF - nor veterinary officials - but to Sir John Krebs of the
Food Standards Agency, who had arranged a meeting for that purpose.
Quite why Krebs should have been taking such an interest in FMD has also
not been explained but it is germane to note that his responsibility is
for food safety. FMD, being an animal disease, was entirely outside his
remit yet, for some reason, no-one from MAFF - which was responsible for
controlling the disease - was invited to the meeting.
Here, a whole raft of coincidences intervene. Firstly, Anderson and
Krebs were not strangers. Both had worked in the Zoology Department in
Oxford University. Secondly, both were Fellows of the Royal Society.
Thirdly, Anderson had worked closely with another Oxford scientist,
Professor Sir Robert May, currently President of the Royal Society and
previous Govt Chief Scientist, and had collaborated with him in
producing two text books on epidemiology. Fourth, May and Krebs were
not exactly strangers. They had both worked in the same Oxford
University department and both had been awarded Royal Society Research
Professorships. Finally, on this highly buoyant raft, Anderson and
Krebs were widely seen as May's proteges.
Whatever the links, the Krebs-Anderson axis evidently had enough
clout to prise data on the FMD epidemic from MAFF, which they obtained
on 14 March. Then, on 23 March 2001, a mere month after the epidemic
had been detected by MAFF, Krebs managed to arrange another meeting.
This time MAFF was invited, in the form of Jim Scudamore, Chief
Veterinary Officer. They heard presentations from Neil Ferguson and
colleagues from Anderson's team, from Mark Woolhouse of the University
of Edinburgh, and opinions from experts at the Institute of Animal
Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
Also present at the meeting was Professor David King, the current
Chief Scientific Adviser, alumni of Cambridge University and successor
to Sir Robert May. Needless to say, King - whose speciality is "surface
chemistry" - was a member of the Royal Society. King almost certainly
owed his position as Chief Scientist to May, as did Krebs his
appointment as head of the Food Standards Agency.
If Anderson was after favours - such as a "slice of the action" on
FMD - he certainly knew the right people; and possibly had the right
"leverage". Not least of this might have been the curious episode of
the government's decision to award the UK's biggest science contract in
15 years to an Oxford laboratory at the expense of the North-west. This
was the 550 million pound Synchrotron project which was pioneered and
developed by the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire.
As Daresbury had been the field leader, it was the obvious location
for the new project - particularly as it is the only major northern-
based publicly funded research institute. But the project was part-
funded by the Wellcome Trust. Sir Robert May, then the Government's
chief scientific adviser, wanted the project to go to Oxford. Anderson,
his close associate and colleague, at the time just happened to be a
Trustee at the Wellcome Trust. And it was the Wellcome Trust that was
widely regarded as the driving force behind the choice of Oxford.
Whatever might have passed, Anderson got his way on FMD. He was
soon effectively to take over the direction of the control policy, based
on computer projections produced by his team - despite Dr Paul Kitching
Animal Health Institute telling Channel 4 News that the new projections
were almost worthless. He also pointed out how conveniently they had
been adjusted when the favoured election date was moved from May to
June. But the government had a perfect defence to the charge of
fiddling the figures: its methods had been devised by the independent
expert Professor Anderson, a man of unimpeachable reputation. It was a
point stressed by Prof. David King, at a press conference on 3 May.
That "reputation" however, was something less than unimpeachable.
January 1999, Anderson was suspended on full pay in while the university
authorities investigated complaints filed by his colleague Dr Sunetra
Gupta - whom he had accused, publicly and falsely, of gaining her post
at Oxford by sleeping with another professor in the zoology department.
Dr Karen Day, a member of the panel which appointed Dr Gupta, also
complained of his "offensive and intimidatory" behaviour. Anderson was
reinstated two months later after agreeing to apologise in writing to
This failed to satisfy Dr Gupta, who continued to press for a public
retraction. A meeting attended by 26 readers, lecturers and professors
in the zoology department passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in
Professor Anderson. Meanwhile, an inquiry by the university into the
research centre in the zoology department criticised his "autocratic"
management style: conditions at the centre were "intolerable" and
divisions ran "very deep".
A separate financial audit then found that Anderson had not
disclosed to either the university or to the Wellcome Trust, which
largely financed his research centre, that he was a director and
shareholder of International Biomedical and Health Sciences Consortium,
a private consultancy firm which had close financial links with the
centre. As director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of
Infectious Diseases, he had applied for over 4 million pounds of
research grants from Wellcome, while also being a Trustee of the
Wellcome Trust itself, which awarded the grants.
"There was a degree of naivety on his part", a Wellcome spokesman
said. "He should have been aware of the procedures to be followed. The
research centre was also receiving commercial grants which were not
declared, in breach of the trust's regulations".
On 9 May 2000, Anderson resigned his Oxford post and announced that
he was taking up a chair at Imperial College. A month later, he finally
gave Dr Gupta the formal apology she wanted, admitting that there had
been "no foundation in truth whatsoever" in his comments. He paid her
legal costs plus damages of l,000 pounds, which she donated to Save the
Children. As she told the Daily Telegraph last June: "I felt nobody
should be allowed to get away with this and remain in a position where
they are making judgements about people's lives... I felt there was no
other choice, no other way to protect myself or other people".
Anderson also resigned from his seat on the Board of Trustees for
the Wellcome Trust. His departure from was announced by Wellcome on 11
March 2000 in somewhat opaque terms, stating that, "in view of recent
events at the University of Oxford", his resignation "would be in the
best interests of both the Trust and himself".
Given this man's impeccable background, it is curious to say the
least that he should still be treated with such authority. But what is
even more curious is his stance on vaccination. His view, articulated
by The Daily Telegraph, was that: "Immunisation would not help much
because it allows the disease to spread from an infected farm, given the
inevitable delay that would occur between confirmation and vaccination".
This was from a man who, despite strong concern about MMR, was one
of the prime advocates of routine vaccination, a man who works for major
pharmaceutical companies which produce most of the world's vaccines. Is
there any connection between Anderson and the vaccine trial on Foot and
Mouth? Did something go wrong? Is this why he was so quick off the
mark and so keen to have a slice of the action? I think we should be
"Dr. Richard North is a food safety analyst and a relentless
opponent of unnecessary bureaucracy, and the EU. Formerly an EHO
specializing in food hygiene, Dr. North was instrumental in the battle
for Lanark Blue cheese. He's also famous for his confrontation with
Edwina Currie over the issue of salmonella in eggs.
"He's written two books, 'The Mad Officials' and 'The Castle of
Lies' (both with Christopher Booker of the Sunday Telegraph). He has a
third book about the food scare phenomenon, called 'Scared to Death'.
More recently he's been advisor to MEPs, and Research Director for the
political group called Europe of Democracies in Brussels (the "EDD").
Dr. North spends his time between his home in Bradford and his advisory
job in Brussels."