Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bush Outlines Flu Pandemic Plan: Better Late Than Never, or Too Little, Too Late?

President Bush made a major address about preparations for a possible Avian flu pandemic today, asking Congress for $7.1 billion to help prepare the country for a global epidemic of influenza.

The President wants $2.8 billion "to subsidize rapid development of cell-based technology for making influenza vaccine -- an investment that the United States' dwindling vaccine industry has declined to make" and between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion would be used to build a 20 million-dose stockpile of an experimental vaccine

Revere, over at Effect Measure, wasn't particularly impressed (although the drug companies were.) Optimistically, it's "better late than never," although I can't help but get the feeling it's too little, too late.
The bottom line for Big Pharma (the only line it cares about) will be that the public will fund the R&D and the big drug companies will be allowed to privatize the profits. And they are being asked to do it in a hurry, without time for adequate safety testing. So they don't want to take the risk and want immunity from suits.

If the problem is that the market doesn't work for vaccines, stop trying to make it work by artificially creating monopolies and insulating manufacturers from the costs of negligence ("the burden of litigation," in Bush's words). Big Pharma is even richer than Big Oil. It was reported yesterday that Europe's number two drug company, Novartis, has $5 billion dollars of cash flow to play with every year. It just used some of it to buy the vaccine maker, Chiron, which itself just got a huge US government contract to make a bird flu vaccine after they flushed half of the nation's supply down the toilet last year with contaminated production facilities. These guys don't need much help except to chew faster and swallow harder to get all the bucks down.
Revere also wasn't impressed with the $580 million for "pandemic preparedness" and Bush's talk about strengthening the hospital system while "his Republican comrades in the Congress are cutting Medicaid and Medicare, funds that the hospitals depend on to operate. "
If Bush really wanted to get us ready for a pandemic, he would get our critical infrastructures ready, especially public health and the health care system. Instead what we got is a proposal to throw money at the problem, with most of it destined to stick to the walls of Big Drug Companies. The public is like the person with a broken leg who is wheeled into the Bush Emergency Room and is told Bush doesn't do broken bones but Doctor Frist and company would be glad to give them a rectal exam.

The threat of a pandemic is serious. This plan isn't serious. It's a distraction to divert attention from Miers, Scooter, Iraq, Katrina and all the other crap Bush has served up. Watch the birdies (they might have the flu) while the other hand is stripping you bare and handing your possessions over to Big Pharma, Halliburton and Big Oil. That's a disgrace.
But wait, all is not lost. As Revere points out, Big Pharma really likes the plan. Not hard to figure why.