I took some time this morning to do a little research on this issue, going back to last April when the first hint that Swine Flu would be a problem in the US was dropped.
In the ensuing months, the government conscientiously planned for an epidemic - a “worst case scenario” as laid out by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius back in July. Funds totaling more than $700 million were made available from HHS to purchase vaccines from the 5 remaining vaccine makers (a whole separate story of government interference in the market that reduced the number of vaccine makers by 2/3 over the previous decade), as well as help states and local governments gear up for the crisis. In addition, more than $3 billion in preparedness funds will come from the stim bill, as well as monies redirected from WMD funds.
This was all done months ago and would appear to show the Obama administration out front of the problem.
At a planning meeting in July, the government set a goal of having 120 million doses of the vaccine by mid-October, with 200 million doses by the end of the year.
Hence, large scale manufacture of the vaccine was delayed. And as it has been reported, the government hasn’t even come close to the 120 million doses promised. In fact, there are about 30 million doses that will have been made available by the end of the week. And even if the companies making it are at peak production (they are not quite there yet evidently), the goal of 200 million doses will also prove to be elusive. The companies may very well have been able to manufacture something close to that number, but foreign orders will cut into the number of US doses available anyway.
Federal officials had projected that 40 million doses would be on hand by Oct. 15, but not even 13 million doses had arrived by Tuesday.
“They [federal health officials] made some earlier projections, but it looks like a number of those projections have been overly optimistic,” said Dr. Ciro Sumaya, a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, and a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
On Tuesday, a top CDC official acknowledged that production of the vaccine was lagging, with a revised goal now of 50 million doses by mid-November and 150 million by year’s end.
So what happened. Whose fault is it?
In 2004, the shortage of Flu vaccine was George Bush’s fault. Just ask any Democrat:
As public health officials scramble to find more flu vaccine and experts debate how to increase the US supply, presidential candidate John Kerry hopes voters will come to one conclusion – the severe shortage the United States now faces is President George Bush’s fault.
Over the past several days, the vaccine shortage has been injected squarely into the presidential race, as Bush defends his administration and Kerry tries to hold him responsible for the loss of nearly 50 million doses of vaccine - half this season’s expected supply.
Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, released a radio advertisement yesterday stoking fears over the shortage as congressional Democrats blamed Bush for not addressing well-documented problems in the vaccine industry.
The British government closed down a vaccine maker because 50 million doses were contaminated - most of those earmarked for the US market.
And those “well documented problems” were the result of government policy going back to the Clinton administration, that allowed people to sue vaccine makers for adverse reactions to the vaccine - some of them ridiculous. This drove costs through the roof which convinced most vaccine makers to get out of the business altogether. You can argue about whether trial lawyers reaped the benefits of such a policy, but the result was the same; there are as many manufacturers of vaccine in the country as their are fingers on one of your hands.
But since the Democrats made blaming Bush a national pastime - even for stuff that was out of his control -shouldn’t we now turn the tables and blame Obama for this radical mismanagement in government planning? How could he be so far off in his estimate of doses that would be available? Was it incompetence? Stupidity? Wishful thinking?
Obviously, we can’t use the Bush standard of blame. Obama is smart. He’s competent. He sometimes speaks in complete sentences. He says “nuclear” and not “nuclar.” He wrote two books - yeah two.
Those are all good reasons to hold Obama harmless for the laughable-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious shortage of flu shots. Come to think of it, maybe the Democrats should have held Bush harmless for circumstances beyond his control too.
I can dream, can’t I?
Never mind. The real reason that there is a shortage of Swine Flu vaccine is very simple: it’s damned hard to make:
Experts such as Sumaya explained that glitches can — and apparently did — occur at several points in the complex process of developing a vaccine, especially for a virus that was first identified in April.
“It shows how there are many steps before you get a vaccine that’s available — the production, the testing, the packaging, the allocation and distribution. And there may be problems at every step, so as you go from one to the other to the other that slows things down,” he said Thursday.
Sumaya was attending a meeting of the CDC advisory committee in Atlanta, where the experts were collecting information on vaccine supply and demand, as well as getting up to speed on the latest H1N1 developments, how the virus is spreading across the country, how many people have been hospitalized and how many have died.
In explaining the vaccine delay, Sumaya said that, first, the H1N1 virus did not grow as quickly as expected during a half-century old — and often-criticized — egg-based production technique.
Second, he said, “because there was kind of a rush to get things done, there were some packaging areas that they [federal officials] had thought wouldn’t take long, yet they did.”
“Even in the distribution, to find certain target groups so it reaches them first, we have to have a sense of what is going on across the country, which is a dynamic situation,” he added.
Then there are the twin demands facing vaccine manufacturers to produce two different vaccines at the same time — one for swine flu and one for seasonal flu.
There’s a longer than anticipated time to grow the antigen, safely package it for distribution (that British contamination snafu in 2004 was the result of inadequate safeguards in packaging), and get it to areas of the country in some kind of rough prioritization.
No sense in blaming government. I think I showed pretty convincingly that the CDC and HHS have been on top of this problem from the get go. But their best laid plans came acropper when Mother Nature refused to cooperate in the growing of the virus in chicken eggs. That, and as always, there were apparently some questions about how safe the vaccine actually is. The anti-vaccination, psuedo-science crowd is making more and more headway despite the science showing that modern flu vaccines are safe and effective. Some people are going to die because they believed that crap. I hope the Luddites can sleep at night.
So even though it would be very nice to blame Obama for the lack of Swine Flu vaccines, we must content ourselves with the usual - making fun of his ears, calling him out for his inability to speak contemporaneously without a teleprompter, and criticizing him for getting up in the morning - all the important stuff.
And did you notice? He’s a black man.