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An overdose of government.

ITEM: Senator Hillary Clinton (D.-N. Y.), according to an AP story in Newsday for October 18, "accused the Bush administration ... of being 'asleep at the switch' and mishandling the flu vaccine shortage.... 'They're more interested in tax cuts for the rich than for flu shots for everyone who needs them, and we've really paid a big price for their negligence,' she said...."

ITEM: Swarthmore College economist Mark Kuperberg blamed the flu vaccine shortage on an aversion to "big government." A college release issued on October 21 quoted the professor: "[A]s I have taught my students for 27 years, there is a role for government in correcting market failures." For example, he said, "[T]he government could set a price at which it would buy unused vaccines, similar to the way agricultural price supports work. Alternatively, the government itself could produce and distribute the vaccine."

BETWEEN THE LINES: The flu vaccine shortage was precipitated when British authorities shut a vaccine manufacturing plant, effectively shrinking the supply of vaccine for the U.S. in half. While there are numerous factors involved in this shortage, the main source of the vaccine problem is too much government meddling. In 1967, according to William Tucker of the Discovery Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, the U.S. had 26 firms which made vaccines. Today, the U.S. has four, and no American firms make a flu vaccine (though one company, MedImmune, makes an inhalational internasal flu preventative).

The loss of U.S. manufacturers of vaccines was largely attributable to government interference: the government removed the potential profit from making vaccines; it required the manufacturers to meet onerous government regulations; and it allowed and, in some cases, instigated lawsuits against vaccine makers.

When Mrs. Clinton got her "Vaccine for Children Act" implemented in 1993, the federal government, not private entities became the major purchaser of vaccines, and the government set price caps on vaccines. These actions, in combination, set the stage to push "prices so low as to make business unsustainable" for vaccine manufacturers.

At the same time, reported the Independent Institute, vaccine manufacturers were pressured by "FDA-mandated plant shutdowns, consent decrees, [forced] equipment upgrades, and other costs...."

Tucker noted that those "other costs" were often the result of litigation. When the federal government began allowing lawsuits in which plaintiffs did not have to prove that a manufacturer did something wrong in order to win a lawsuit, and manufacturers could "be held responsible for the harm of [their] products, whether blameworthy or not," vaccine manufacturers opted not to risk producing vaccines.

Unfortunately, if predictably, in the wake of recent shortages of flu vaccine, liberals now want the federal government to get more involved in the distribution of flu vaccines, not less involved.
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Title Annotation:Between The Lines
Author:Hoar, William P.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 29, 2004
Words:459
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