THE MISSING FLU VACCINE
WHO IS PROTECTING THE PUBLIC'S INTEREST? THE MISSING FLU VACCINE
WHO IS PROTECTING THE PUBLIC’S HEALTH?
By Edward Shanahan
Liberalism and its advocates absorbed heavy bashing in the presidential election as President Bush repeatedly belittled those who favor greater government involvement in certain segments of our society.
Lost in the hoopla of the election and renewed focus on the war in Iraq is the flu vaccine debacle, which has not gone away, but merely become a victim of the nation’s short attention span.
Is it liberal to believe that the government has an affirmative role to play in protecting the public’s health by guaranteeing vaccine, not only to prevent the flu but for other diseases, as well?
It is not pro-government liberals but the Republican administration and its preference for letting the private sector and a profit-motivated marketplace dictate how much vaccine and which kinds are available, who is the culprit in this massive health failure.
We have been badly misled, confused and ultimately ill-served by a political system that is persuaded by the special interests of every stripe that less government is better government, that deregulation is preferable to an activist public sector.
Regulation is seen as the enemy of the people - although there is abundant evidence - bankrupt airlines, insurance, banking, stock market scandals, corporate fraud, killer health care costs, looted pension plans - that the marketplace will aggressively exploit the public if the people or their representatives are not paying attention.
In the case of vaccine, the government has put the public’s heath at risk by allowing the system to rely on just two manufacturers to provide the nation with the vaccine needed to prevent an annual flu epidemic.
Moreover, the New York Times reported that between 2000 and 2003 there were “shortages in eight of the 11 vaccines for childhood diseases in the United States, including those for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps and chicken pox.” And the story goes on: “There have been flu vaccine shortages or miscues for four consecutive years.”
Public health is not a matter that can be left solely to a handful of the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture and supply vaccines only if there is a certain huge profit in it. Protecting the public’s health is a vast social obligation of our governments - it should never be delegated to the profiteers.
The flu season has not yet arrived, so we don’t know what the consequences will be of this government’s failure to guarantee an adequate flu vaccine supply.
But when there is a reckoning - when citizens, very old and very young, die–it will be crystal clear where the blame should be placed.