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Flu shot panic.

What can be learned from the great flu shot panic of 2004? Clearly the government must guarantee the manufacturer that the necessary number of flu shots will be purchased at a price sufficient to assure the manufacturer that he won't lose money.

Beyond that, the FDA has to do a better job of checking with regulatory agencies in other countries. This time, the agency relied on a plant in England to tell it of any problems. If the FDA had asked its British counterpart, the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, it would have found out that there were plenty of problems. Why didn't the FDA ask?

"We followed standard procedures and this is the way we have always done it," explained the FDA's Lester Crawford.

Another lesson is that where shortages are threatened, the CDC should have the power to order that shots be given first to the people who need them most and then according to a fair system of priority. It also should be able to allocate the vaccine so that supplies are available to meet those priorities. This year's shortage was clear by early October. But the CDC failed to act, and on Oct. 16, a Washington Post headline told us "Flu Vaccine Allocation in Area Haphazard, No System Exists for Haves to Share Supplies with Have-nots."

The CDC should also be responsible for telling people what's going on. As late as Oct. 21, Gardiner Harris of The New Fork Times reported "local and state officials are complaining that their federal counterparts have given them almost no information to deal with the shortage."

The problem is that the CDC did not want these responsibilities. Its director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said "imposing federal controls over this process would probably make a big mess." It was already a big mess, Dr. Gerberding. If government did not fill the need, who would? Some things simply have to be done by the government. The real question is not whether government should do them, but how to make sure government does them right.

Finally, on Nov. 10, Dr. Gerberding overcame her market principles and announced a plan for rationing the vaccine according to need. By this time, the CDC controlled only 10 million of the 50 million shots that were available in early October. Furthermore, the CDC is allowing freelancers like New York mayor Bloomberg to import the vaccine from abroad. Your ability to get a shot may depend less on your need than on the enterprise of your mayor. So far a lot of people have been getting the vaccine who are not exactly priority cases, including many twenty-something congressional aides, not to mention many of their healthier bosses.

Unfortunately, as a state official put it to The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly, "several million high-risk Americans" will not be getting it.
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Title Annotation:Tilting at Windmills
Author:Peters, Charles
Publication:Washington Monthly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:470
Previous Article:Livin' at the Savoy.
Next Article:"Unnecessary epidemic".
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