Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Health system sneezes

Flu season is just around the corner in the United States, and we've just learned that nearly half the country's supply of flu vaccine is likely to be destroyed. The stuff may be contaminated, say regulators in Great Britain, where 48 million doses were manufactured by an American company named Chiron. The whole 48 million are off the market at the moment, while decisions are made about whether any of it can be safely used.

It seems that only two companies manufacture the U.S. supply of flu vaccine, which has to be reformulated every year to keep up with the latest viral strains. We're looking at a serious shortage, especially if people remember last year's flu outbreaks. The government's news release

Health authorities in America usually encourage widespread vaccination at this time of year. Instead, they are urging now that healthy people hang back and let the sick, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases or wide exposure have the first shots available. That's a reasonable response for the short run.

For the long run, though, we have to ask if it's smart to leave the supply of an important medicine so narrowly concentrated. If the profit motive hasn't succeeded in making the vaccine market attractive to enterprise, then maybe this ought to be a public business. Is there a medical school that could do the job? Could the National Institutes of Health, or the Centers for Disease Control?

Your thoughts? If you click the "comments" line you can see others' reactions and add your own.


Lisa Jeffery, MBA, MA said...

Hi Hop!
Congrats on becoming a blogger! I like your blog, and since I also like to hear you speak, I think I'm going to enjoy your commentary here.

This is an interesting topic. As a type 1 diabetic, this issue concerns me. I'm in the group that must get their flu shots first. Last year, during the first flu shot shortage, it was very hard for even me to find a flu shot. I haven't gotten one yet this year, and fear they will run out before the "mandatory" group can all get their shots.

Thanks for the article!

Lisa Jeffery

KateForgach said...

This unhappy crisis simply underscores what John Edwards said in the VP debates last night, when discussing how health care costs could be reduced in the U.S. While Cheney focused on excessive litigation (granted a problem, but not nearly the primary problem) Edwards pointed out the exasperating hold the drug companies have on our politicians.

What a pretty fix we are in when the government gives one company a near monopoly with such a vital drug. The recent legislation banning not just Canadian but almost all imported medications is a law written simply to pacify the drug companies. Although the public justification is that such drugs are unsafe, there have been no studies that provide such evidence.

During my recent two years living in France, my medications cost me half what they cost here in the U.S. Considering these medications run nearly $500/month and I am presently unemployed--thus sans insurance, this is no drop in the bucket.

Upon returning to the U.S., I learned that I was allowed to bring back only two-weeks worth of medications from foreign producers, despite the country of origin. This was sufficient to cause a full search of my bags.

Such was not the case when I returned from the United Arab Emirates to France. (The cost of medications in the UAE are unbelievably low, as are many in Spain.

A catastrophic health problem is not necessary for an individual or family, be they middle-class or poor, to face ruin. The costs of drugs can send them into a fateful spiral.