A Los Angeles radio station handed out promotional T-shirts as they administered 100 precious flu shots last week. One week earlier, in Lafayette, Calif., a 79-year-old woman collapsed and died after standing outside a Safeway for five hours waiting for a dose.
Though some are quick to dismiss flu hysteria as speculative, statistics show that this year’s vaccine shortage is a genuine cause for concern. Ninety million Americans are at high risk for contracting a fatal case of influenza. This year, the unexpected closure of an English drug manufacturing plant because of suspected contamination has caused our supplies to dwindle to only 60 million doses, out of an expected 105 million.
Vice President Dick Cheney blames the shortage on drug companies’ fear of lawsuits and adds that ‘producing vaccines is not a very profitable business.’ Is profitability the new standard by which we gauge the need to protect the American public? In the future, can we expect police officers to ignore crime reports because the cost of the gas used to drive to the scene would outweigh any monetary gain?
Because of shortages, flu shots are now limited to people 65 years of age and older, children between 2 and 6 years old, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, health care workers and senators. That’s right, Senators were able to bypass the five-hour lines and receive flu shots regardless of their age or health, up until Oct. 7, two days after the shortage was reported and supplies were limited to high-risk groups.
Though some politicians would otherwise be eligible for flu shots due to old age or poor medical condition, others, such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, from whose office vaccinations were distributed, simply saw fit to deny their dose to those at higher risk in order to avoid an illness from which from which our governemnt officals would probably more easily recover from.
Frist has since tried to pass off his decision as a precaution against becoming a contaminating agent, since he comes into contact with elderly people and babies. However, many other people who are in frequent contact with these groups are ineligible to receive the vaccine under the prescribed guidelines. Conserving available doses is important, but we should also do everything within our power to secure additional doses as quickly as possible. Canada has offered to provide America with two million additional doses of the vaccine, but these are currently tied up in the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process, and may not be approved for American consumption soon enough.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson has the power to declare a health emergency, in which case Canada’s inspections would suffice as approval for the vaccines’ admittance in the United States. George W. Bush has long tried to keep cheap Canadian drugs out of the country by claiming that Canadian drug supplies are unsafe for American consumption. This vaccine shortage has already damaged any claim that our medical system is infallible. It is time for Bush to swallow his pride and to encourage Thompson to accept Canada’s offer.
How many lives could an additional two million doses save? Wouldn’t it be worth it to Bush to admit his error if doing so saves even one life? Or is Bush so egocentric that just to preserve his image as a steadfast leader, he willingly puts American lives at risk? Maybe the occasional ‘flip-flop’ isn’t so bad after all
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