Flu vaccine warnings were ignored

Each year, the flu claims the lives of 36,000 Americans. This year, with only half the necessary vaccine, if the total goes up by only a tenth, flu deaths will be more than the number who died on Sept. 11.

Bush administration officials are claiming they had no idea this shortage could occur. They charge it is all the fault of the Clinton administration. Further, they are crowing about all their efforts to prevent such a shortage in the future.

Just as happened after 9/11, it didn’t take long for reports that were filed and forgotten to resurface. Every one of them warned about a possible shortage of flu vaccine. Bush’s defenders say all this happened while he was still learning the ropes in the White House.

This vaccine shortage, however, comes as George W. Bush is running for re-election and stressing assertions of wisdom gained from experience. Prevention is not the president’s long suit, as shown by the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. It doesn’t fit with his ideology.

The New York Times last Sunday quoted a scientist as noting the federal government is spending $283 million a year on flu research and $5.6 billion on research for an anti-anthrax vaccine. The scientist said anthrax is a theoretical threat.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been in touch with Aventis Pasteur, a French company that is the only other major manufacturer of the vaccine, to see if it can make up some of the shortfall. That appears unlikely, however, because the vaccine-making process uses chicken eggs. The main manufacturer, Chiron, used 100,000 a day at peak production, which required ordering these eggs months in advance. The time element would rule out timely manufacture.

Authorities in the field say another part of the problem is that only one or two firms are making flu vaccine. That means the supply is subject to disruption if one of the producers can’t meet demand. “We need more people making flu vaccine,” said John Treanor, of the University of Rochester, N.Y. Treanor evaluates vaccinations. He said it is not possible to predict whether the upcoming flu season will be severe. “It’s going to generate a lot of confusion and concern,” he said. “But we would like to avoid any panic-stricken rushing to the clinic.” (News@nature.com)

Last year, Republicans in Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, were pushing for legislation that would shield domestic vaccine makers from lawsuits. There was a near-compromise agreement on the legislation, but negotiations between Republicans and Democrats collapsed at the last minute. (ClickItNews.org) President Bush recently signed a bill including that protection for vaccine makers.

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