Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Politics, Lawyers, and the Flu Vaccine

The Weekly Standard has an article that cuts to the chase of the Flu vaccine shortage:

JOHN KERRY wasted no time jumping on President George Bush about the unexpected shortage in flu vaccines this year. Why wasn't Bush paying attention? He should have done things differently. And of course Kerry had a "plan" to solve the whole mess.
If Kerry thinks he can solve the flu vaccine problem, he need look no further than his own running mate, trial lawyer John Edwards. Vaccines are the one area of medicine where trial lawyers are almost completely responsible for the problem. No one can plausibly point a finger at insurance companies, drug companies, or doctors. Lawyers have won the vaccine game so completely that nobody wants to play.

The article goes on to document--from polio to pertussis--how each drug company eventually got out of the vaccine-making business when it became obvious that no profit could be made because of the inevitable lawsuits that came with immunizing millions of people. Someone, somewhere was bound to have an adverse event.

The author of the article, William Tucker, also takes aim at the other culprit responsible for the abysmal state of immunization in this country--the Centers for Disease Control:

Each year in February, the Centers for Disease Control meets with the vaccine-makers--all two of them--and decides which strain of the virus to anticipate for next year. Then they both make the same vaccine. Last year the committee bet on the Panama strain, but a rogue "Fujian" strain suddenly emerged as a surprise invader. A mini-epidemic resulted and 93 children died, only two of them properly vaccinated.

With several companies competing in the field, as was once the case, somebody would have been more likely to produce a dark horse vaccine. If that rogue strain emerged, the dissenting company would hit the jackpot, and there would be ample supplies of an effective vaccine, at least for those most at risk. In the "planned economy" of the CDC, however, there is no back-up for an unexpected turn of events. This year there isn't even a front line.

Are trial lawyers ready to accept responsibility for their starring role in creating this health hazard? Don't hold your breath. "This is just the typical garbage and propaganda from the drug manufacturers," says Carlton Carl, spokesman for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. "There's absolutely no disincentive for making vaccines. American companies don't do it for the same reason they're sending jobs overseas--because it increases their profits."

To me this is simply UNBELIEVABLE. Not being able to make a profit because the system is completely rigged against you seems to me to be a HUGE disincentive. Being blamed for every negative reaction to your vaccine and held financially liable for all these events might also be a significant disincentive. Not to mention the vilification of your company in the press and by certain members of Congress. Or, how about this moronic observation after the first debate (hat tip, Michelle Malkin):

The lack of flu vaccine affects every family. It is ready-made to take off as a political issue. Someone made a mistake. Where is the accountability? If the free market can’t provide flu vaccine, the government should step in. The Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress. If fear of lawsuits is preventing American companies from manufacturing flu vaccine, as Bush asserted in the debate, a law could be passed to provide protection. Even John Edwards, Mr. Trial Lawyer, wouldn’t oppose an emergency health measure. But lawsuits are not the obstacle, and Bush knows it. There’s not enough profit in vaccines, and the pharmaceutical companies have grown greedy on his watch.

Yeah. Right. The Free Market is responsible for this mess. Does anyone remember Hilary Clinton's 1993 "Vaccines for Children" Program? Here is how Newsmax explains it:

Hillary's vaccine crusade was being pushed by her Children's Defense Fund mentor Marian Wright Edelman - even though U.S. child vaccination rates at the time were considered relatively high by medical experts.

But that didn't stop Sen. Clinton and her "reformers." She pressured Congress to back the disastrous plan in a bid to make vaccines more available to poor, uninsured and underinsured children. In the process she turned the government into the major purchaser and distributor of vaccines.

Oops! Unfortunately for the familles of the 11 children killed by the disease so far, things didn't quite work out the way Hillary had planned.

As noted by the Kansas City Star this week, the decision to force vaccine makers to discount their price resulted in "declining financial incentives to develop and produce vaccines."
What's more, the vaccination rate "barely budged" after the Hillary-Edelman brainchild was implemented.
Hillary's "reform" did, however, manage to leave the nation thoroughly unprepared to handle the current flu crisis.

It took several decades to get us into the current vaccine crisis. But, obviously, it is all Bush's fault. And the pharmaceutical companies' fault (those DARN pharmaceutical companies that want to MAKE A PROFIT from their business--how shocking!). And OF COURSE, the solution is MORE government regulation and control of the process.

Here are my dual recommendations (as a physician and parent):



Does the Law of Supply and Demand mean anything to anyone anymore?

No comments: