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Posts Tagged ‘swine flu’

Well, here we are.  The Swine Flu is sweeping over the country like an invisible Tsunami, or maybe like an invisible Katrina.  Several months ago the government – CDC etc  – promised that they were on top of the situation and there would be plenty of flu vaccine available.   “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” Doesn’t this seem sort of like deja vu all over again? I mean, during Katrina it was – at first anyway – difficult to tell whether the government just didn’t care or if they were just sublimely incompetent.  Now we know.

OK.  Now we have a new government in place. We all knew last spring that the Swine flu was spreading around the world and that it would be coming around here again in the fall. Well, it’s the fall.  Several months ago our government told us that there would be plenty of flu vaccine around, and remember, at the time no one knew whether the H1N1 flu would be morphing into something very deadly, like its cousin the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide. So, there was a lot of concern and we were assured that there would be a lot of vaccine available.  But there isn’t.

As of today, the H1N1 flu is widespread in just about all the states. Meanwhile there is precious little vaccine available. It appears that the flu might even have peaked in some areas. So, how are things going at the CDC?  It seems they are confused. They thought they were going to have plenty of vaccine – but they don’t. So what happened? Did someone drop the eggs? How can we go from expecting maybe 100 million doses to be available to hoping for 42 million by mid-November? How can we be at the peak of the flu and have only 16 million doses available right now? There are 300 million people in this country.  And if you get a flu shot today, how long does it take before you have built up immunity to the flu? It doesn’t happen overnight.

There are only two conclusions that can be drawn from the H1N1 vaccine debacle – either our government doesn’t care or it is incompetent. There is an amazing similarity between the Katrina catastrophe and this – at least in the way the government has reacted. The primary difference is that the flu is not nearly as deadly as it might have been had it morphed – scant comfort, I suppose, to those whose children have already died from the H1N1.

One would have thought we had learned a lesson from Katrina, but it seems we didn’t – at least the elephantine U.S. government didn’t.  How could they not know there wouldn’t be sufficient supplies of vaccine? Were the manufacturers lying to them? Did anybody actually bother to do a calculation to see how much vaccine would be available on any given day? Have the people who work for the government ever heard of a spreadsheet?  Do they have any idea how to use a computer to project future supply and demand? I don’t think so.

We are simply at the mercy of an incompetent, uncaring assortment of Civil Servants who couldn’t care less if they rescue people from Hurricanes or germs or anything else for that matter. And where is the Presidential anger?  Where is the Presidential outrage at this gross incompetence? Where is my CHANGE? Why isn’t there any foresight, why no vision, why no imagination? Who is responsible for asking, “What if?” What if this had turned out to be a very deadly flu variant, as in 1918? It happened once – it will certainly – CERTAINLY – happen again. Don’t these people get it?

We lucked out this time. There are plenty of embarrassed, red faces in DC, but there should instead be plenty of embarrassed red faces out on the streets of DC.  But that will never happen because when you are a Civil Servant you have a job for life come Hell, High Water, or the Flu.  Nobody takes responsibility or gets blamed for anything – ever.

The problem is this: we have an incompetent government that is unable to protect the people of this country. It was demonstrated in Katrina and it has been demonstrated again with H1N1. Change is needed like never before, but it hasn’t come where it is needed most – inside the halls of government where intelligent, crucial, lifesaving decisions are supposed to be made, but they aren’t.

That is the lesson of the H1N1 vaccine debacle.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the swine flu is now “widespread” in the majority of states in the U.S. In those states where it is not officially “widespread” it is mostly categorized as either “regional” or “local”.  In other words, its pretty much everywhere – right now.  Today, the very first swine flu doses of vaccine are being distributed to health workers. This is only a very small batch of vaccine, the amount of vaccine that could be used to inoculate most of the U.S. population is still far off, and it is unlikely that the huge amounts of the vaccine will be available before the flu is officially “widespread” in just about all parts of the country.  At which point one might wonder if it makes sense to get vaccinated at all.

Here’s something to think about: what if this disease were more deadly? Or, what if it just left lasting effects that didn’t kill quickly but just made your life miserable as long as you lived?  Would we all still be sitting on our couches, still changing the channels to see what else is on TV?  Could it be that this flu pandemic teaching us something that we aren’t learning? You bet it is.  The thing is this, however, the lesson has already been taught to us before – on more than one occasion – but it is one we don’t want to learn.  That’s because it’s about money.

It was almost 100 years ago that the Titanic set sail from its last stop at Cobh harbor in Ireland on its way to New York.   It already had a reputation as being unsinkable, even though this was its maiden voyage, due to its construction, which included a number of water-tight compartments.  Tragically, it turned out that the watertight compartments could not prevent it from sinking.  Even more tragic was the fact that there were not enough lifeboats on the ship.  Perhaps less well known is the fact that a sufficient number of lifeboats had actually been provided for the Titanic, but the ships management company, White Star Line, decided to offload almost half of the lifeboats because they felt the decks of Titanic were too cluttered.  And besides, the existing regulations didn’t require all those lifeboats anyway.  The result, of course, was the most famous maritime disaster of all time.  The lesson was that all ships in the future had to have sufficient lifeboat capacity no matter what anyone says.

There is, however, a further lesson we can learn from both the Titanic and the swine flu – but it is one we are unlikely to learn until it is too late.  The lesson is this: when we entrust our safety to profit-making corporations we have given the option to these corporations of choosing between profits and safety – and they will always choose profits.  The simple fact is that safety doesn’t make money and therefore only an entity that has the safety of the people in mind, and not profit, will make the correct decisions concerning public safety.  That entity is, and can only be, the government.

The simple fact is this: we don’t have enough swine flu vaccine.  We will not have enough swine flu vaccine in time to help prevent that vast majority of cases.  More people will get swine flu that will be protected from it by a vaccine.  The reason for this is simple: we don’t have the capability to make enough a vaccine fast enough.   Of course, when I say “we”, I mean the vaccine industry because there is no government vaccine production capability.  So why is this? Why isn’t there enough commercial vaccine capability to produce a vaccine for everyone in time? It’s because it doesn’t make sense from a profit-making perspective.  How often would these companies use this prodigious capability?  No too often. How would it pay for itself? It wouldn’t.  It would sit idle most of the time.  The Capitalist equation works for the business owner, not the general population.  It is the government (i.e. the people) that has to intervene when the for-profit system fails to provide for the safety of the people.  After the Titanic disaster strict lifeboat regulations were passed – by governments, not by the ocean liner industry.

We are in the process of learning a lesson similar to the Titanic lesson again.  However, it is one I believe we won’t learn well.  That’s because the swine flu is not deadly enough. A lot of us will get sick and a lot of us will die – but not enough, not enough to galvanize the public into demanding action. The result will be that our government won’t create a capability that could immunize all of us at some future time when we are confronted by a truly deadly killer. And then of course, it will be too late.

One can only wonder at a government that designs and builds enough nuclear weapons to kill every man, woman, and child on the planet many times over, all in the name of defense.  Yet, when it comes to defending its own people from disease, our government turns a blind eye to the possibility and its own responsibility, and leaves our lives at the tender mercies of the for-profit medical industry.

Capitalism at its best.

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