Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Flu Bug Hits The Campaign Trail

In the third presidential debate, Bob Schieffer asked a question about the flu vaccine shortage. This is how President Bush responded:
Bob, we relied upon a company out of England to provide about half of the flu vaccines for the United States citizen, and it turned out that the vaccine they were producing was contaminated. And so we took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country.

We're working with Canada to hopefully -- that they'll produce a -- help us realize the vaccine necessary to make sure our citizens have got flu vaccinations during this upcoming season. My call to our fellow Americans is if you're healthy, if you're younger, don't get a flu shot this year. Help us prioritize those who need to get the flu shot, the elderly and the young. The CDC, responsible for health in the United States, is setting those priorities and is allocating the flu vaccine accordingly.
Well, first of all, it's a California company, Chiron, that outsourced its flu vaccine production to an English company, but be that as it may, probably the most interesting thing the president said is the part about limiting flu shots to those that are most other words, "rationing," the very thing he contends will happen under Kerry's healthcare plan. It's already happening, Mr. President.

What are the politics of the flu? Well, Bush, further on in his answer to Bob Schieffer, blamed the problem on this litigious society we live in, and so, by association, on trial lawyers, which, of course, is code for John Edwards. But as the New York Times informs us:
Experts are pondering ways to induce more companies to make flu vaccine for the American market. The issue is not that manufacturers are worried about lawsuits over liability, as President Bush has suggested. Litigation is seldom, if ever, cited in authoritative analyses of vaccine shortages. The main problem is that influenza vaccine needs to be reformulated every year, and companies suffer huge losses if they overestimate the amount that will be needed because they end up having to destroy millions of doses. The administration needs to find a way to expand and stabilize the vaccine manufacturing base. The lesson of the Chiron debacle is that a diversity of supply is critical.

Both candidates are raising the issue in retiree-heavy Florida, Bush on the defense, and Kerry on the offense.
President Bush on Tuesday assured the state's flu-wary retirees that "we have millions of vaccines doses on hand for the most vulnerable Americans" as his administration said that 2.6 million more doses would be available by January.
Democrats have seized on the vaccine shortage to accuse the administration of being unable to protect Americans - from either illness or terrorism. "If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism?'' Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, asked in an interview with National Public Radio. "If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, what kind of health care program are you running?''
This is one of those unforseen external factors that people talk about impacting the campaign, and it by far benefits Kerry. While I'm uneasy with Kerry playing the "scare tactics" card that we criticize the administration for pulling out with such abandon, I like that on this issue, as well as so many others, the Democrats are finally fighting fire with fire.


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