The UK’s government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) was established in 2020 to “provide scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies”. The latest of these has been the COVID-19 pandemic. SAGE members are drawn from a spectrum of disciplines including epidemiology, immunology, pharmaceutics, public health, psychology, modelling and statistics.
Beginning with George Stiglitz, it has been widely acknowledged that regulators of industries tend to be captured by specific commercial interests. Stiglitz defined regulatory capture as “the problem of discovering when and why an industry is able to use the state for its purposes.” Capture also occurs in public health policy through corporate members of advisory groups. Like any other advisory group, SAGE is vulnerable to capture by commercial interests in the control of the pandemic, e.g. primarily behaviour control and vaccines.
The question here is: who influences SAGE, or more plainly, who owns SAGE? Now one might think the answer to this question must be one answer and one only, the UK Government. But what if other interests from outside of the government take it over and manage to control it? This would be possible as a form of capture. One way to understand how this could be possible is to examine the interests of SAGE participants. If a sufficient number of members had the same particular affiliation to a cause or company, then that would be a form of capture.
An analysis was carried out in 2020 by Dr Zoë Harcombe, summarised in the next section, reached precisely this conclusion.
SAGE Conflicts of Interest
Organisations invested in vaccines make money from vaccines. People who acquire natural immunity have less or no need for a vaccine. Harcombe’s analysis focuses on the crucial first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic when the government formulated its initial response. On March 11th, 2020, the UK government issued advice to combat the spread of SARS-CoV-2. On March 16th, Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London and colleagues published a modelling paper with the the prediction that, if suppression measures were not introduced, there would be 510,000 deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US. Panic stations followed everywhere. Twelve days later, the first UK lockdown was announced. It must be noted that people ‘locked’ inside their homes have less chance of acquiring natural immunity than free-moving agents.
In Harcombe’s analysis, 12 out of the 20 key influencers worked for or have received funding from organisations involved in the COVID-19 vaccine.
Harcombe made this discovery by logging the attendance of SAGE members over the first two crucial months of meetings in February and March 2020. Those who attended most regularly were deemed to be key influencers. Examining the 20 key influencers on SAGE, Harcombe revealed that 11 out of 20 work for the government (some hold government roles in addition to other roles) and that 12 out of 20 work for or have received funding from organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccines.
Fear as Coercion
Harcombe logged the fact that the two behaviour experts among the key influencers collaborated on a controversial paper which stokes fear to increase adherence to COVID-19 rules: “A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened… The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard‐hitting emotional messaging based on accurate information about risk.” This paper by Michie et al. has sections on coercion, compulsion and how to harness “social disapproval” to coerce people into doing what government wants them to do.
Essentially, what we are witnessing with SAGE is the old-fashioned method of ‘carrot and stick’.
It is apparent that fear is deliberately stoked by SAGE to induce people to adopt specific control measures of ‘hands, face and space’ together with working at home and lockdowns all helping to prevent the spread of the disease. These measures also leave the majority of the population without natural immunity and in fear of their lives. Only vaccines can save them.
Financial Interests of SAGE members
People with a financial interest in a vaccine are conflicted if they give advice that is likely to increase the use of that vaccine. Remember that in 2020 when the first lockdowns were called, there were no vaccines. No vaccines means no profits for vaccine companies. Recommending a lockdown removes people from circulation and minimises the spread of the disease. It also increases the eventual need for vaccines.
The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine highlighted inaccuracies in the forecasts that resulted in Lockdown 2. Slides shown on national TV on 31st October had to be revised downwards by the time the slides were published on line. Vallance and Whitty were summoned to appear before the Science and Technology Committee on 3rd November and it was necessary for Vallance to express regret for frightening people, ‘regret’ being the closest thing to an apology in any mandarin.
However, a core part of SAGE’s modus operandi is to frighten people into compliance as Michie et al.’s paper documents. Holcombe suggests that “fear might turn to anger if people realise that the committee may not be the independent body that it has been assumed to be.”
The Director of Wellcome Leaves SAGE
In its policies to control the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK Government has consistently stated that it ‘follows the science’. However, the recent resignation of Sir Jeremy Farrar, the Director of the Wellcome Trust, suggests otherwise. Sir Jeremy expressed disappointment with the slow and inadequate responses of the government. Voting with his feet, he decided his time would be better spent developing a global vaccination strategy led by the Wellcome Trust.
Was Sir Jeremy frustrated with the Government’s limp response of reintroducing mask wearing in shops and on transport but deciding against working from home and another full lockdown?
Writing in The Guardian on 4th December, Sir Jeremy stated:
It’s almost two years since we first heard of Covid-19, and a year since the first Covid vaccines were rolled out. Yet this staggering progress is being squandered. We have drifted for months now, with richer countries, taking a very blinkered domestic focus, lulled into thinking that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. This variant reminds us all that we remain closer to the start of the pandemic than the end.
This political drift and lack of leadership is prolonging the pandemic for everyone, with governments unwilling to really address inequitable access to the vaccines, tests and treatment. We are not yet in control of this pandemic – Omicron or an even worse variant could arise at any time. There have been wonderful speeches, warm words but not the actions needed to ensure fair access to what we know works and would bring the pandemic to a close.
We will only bring this pandemic to an end by working together globally and sharing access to all the vital public health tools needed to reduce transmission everywhere and save lives. It is staggering and utterly frustrating that, two years on, governments still haven’t woken up and realised this is in their enlightened, shared self-interest.
Acting in national self-interest will only ever perpetuate this crisis, trapping us in a cycle of waves, new variants, lost lives and continued economic and societal disruption.
No country should believe they are safe, purely because they’ve vaccinated their own populations. We can and must do better than this.
With Sir Jeremy’s departure, who will carry the torch for Wellcome at SAGE?
I have counted 39 of 146 (27%) SAGE members with links to companies producing vaccine. In addition there are at least 40 members (27%) linked to universities with vaccine-related research projects.
So there’s little for Sir Jeremy to worry about on that score.
There can be little question that Big Pharma vaccine producers own SAGE.
DFM’s statement of interests: I have received two inoculations and a booster of Biontech/Pfizer vaccine.