Thursday, February 02, 2006

Facing up to the flu vaccine challenge

Year after year now the story is the same: persistent mismatches between influenza vaccine supply and demand. Last week furious doctors and hospitals let CDC know they are unhappy about it.
"God help us if we have an influenza pandemic with the distribution system as it is now organized," said Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer for Alabama. "There is going to have to be some organized system to ensure we know where the vaccine is, where it is going, and that somebody has the ability to move it around."

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said the agency, which tracks flu in the United States and analyzes viruses so manufacturers can formulate vaccine, recognizes the system's flaws.

"It is very challenging for us to have year after year go by and to still feel like we are not meeting the public's expectations in being able to have affordable, reliable access to a vaccine that they increasingly want," she said.

But there are limits to what the CDC can do, she cautioned. Though the agency helps states buy and distribute childhood vaccines, "we don't have the capacity, the empowerment or the budget" to do that for adults, she said. (Maryn McKenna, Cox News Service)
So here's a novel idea, Dr. Gerberding. How about fighting for the power, the capacity and an appropriate mechanism? The market doesn't work and Big Pharma doesn't care. Everyone seems to agree. So why not suggest -- why don't you suggest -- we need a national vaccine effort whereby the government orders and distributes a specified amount of vaccine under contract. Yes, just like a defense contract. Put it out for bids.

Then some contractor will come along and make a tidy little profit (the usual 15% or so characteristic of government contracts), and we can let Big Pharma get back to concentrating on making its preferred obscene profits, none of this piddling 15% stuff.

Or is that too "challenging"?