Academics who spoke out on swine flu risks were more likely to have industry links, study finds

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 12 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6758
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Academics who promoted the use of antiviral drugs in the media during the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic were eight times as likely to have links with the drug industry as quoted academics who didn’t comment on their use, an analysis of media reporting has found.1

The United Kingdom spent an estimated £1bn on drugs, including neuraminidase inhibitors and H1N1 specific vaccine, during the pandemic of 2009-10.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analysed 425 articles covering the pandemic published in a range of newspapers from April to July 2009. The researchers then searched for evidence of competing interests of each academic, including grants, honorariums, speakers’ fees, consultancies, advisory roles, employment, and company directorship or stock ownership.

The researchers found that during the study period health ministers were the most frequently quoted source in media articles (34% of sources), followed by academics (30%). Eighteen (30%) of the 61 academics who were quoted had competing interests.

Academics with competing interests were nearly six times as likely as those without industry links (P=0.009) to predict a higher risk to the public from the pandemic than was given by official agencies.

Twenty academics commented specifically on drugs or vaccines in 36 articles, half of whom had competing interests. The odds of a competing interest among academics promoting the use of neuraminidase inhibitors was 8.4 times that among academics who didn’t comment on their use (Fisher’s exact P=0.005).

Only three of the 425 articles mentioned that the quoted academic had a potential competing interest. The researchers wrote, “Undisclosed competing interests degrades public confidence in medical research, to the detriment of the whole scientific community.” They called on academics to declare any potential conflict of interest when commenting on public health issues in the media.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6758