A couple of days ago I was talking with a long-time reader who couldn’t understand why those Democrats who favor healthcare reform weren’t beating the drug companies over the head with the failure to produce enough swine flu vaccine. After all, if you’re a drug manufacturer, you should be able to produce drugs. Said reader made an argument (albeit more colorfully) similar to Steve Benen’s (italics mine):
Taken together, it seems the president immediately recognized the seriousness of a public health issue, mobilized officials, launched a public information campaign, and ordered the creation and distribution of a vaccine. The White House sought out all the right advice, from all the right people, and acted quickly. This isn’t my area of expertise, but it sounds like the White House has been responding to the H1N1 problem exactly the way it should.
So, what’s the problem? Apparently, HHS relied on estimates from manufacturers about the speed and supply of a vaccine, and the manufacturers were overly optimistic about what they could produce. The private companies reported in July they would have 120 million doses available by this week. They were off by about 97 million.
Counting on manufacturers’ assurances, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, may have been “naive.” Perhaps. But it was obviously outside the control of the administration….
When we think about government failures on public emergencies — the response to Hurricane Katrina, for example — we see certain characteristics, such as negligence, incompetence, tardiness, and ignorance. None of these concerns seems to apply to the administration’s handling of the H1N1 emergency.
This would be a reasonable assessment of the situation. But never fear! Of course, conservative wackaloons like Bill Kristol can find a way to make the fatuous seem to be the obvious:
It’s an amazing feat that she’s done and now she’s pushing this bill, this huge government take over of the health care system at the moment when we have an experiment, an ongoing experiment in government health care–the swine flu epidemic–an emergency the president called it.
If you like how the government’s run swine flu with lines and cues and promises that haven’t come through in terms of having the vaccines available–if you like the government’s swine flu program, you’ll love Pelosi-Care….
Granted, Juan Williams pointed out that the problem was that the drug manufacturers didn’t make enough vaccine. But, unfortunately, for too many, this will be a cognitive leap too far. The vaccine manufacturers will try to obscure the issue: they’ll claim that the process was the same as previous years, and who could possibly know that vaccine production would come 85% under target? (Never mind that we almost never hit vaccine production targets).
In a sane polity, we would wonder why pharmaceutical conglomerates didn’t set aside some of their enormous profits to overproduce the swine flu vaccine, so that, no matter what happened, there would be enough vaccine. But we have a discourse where conservatives–the people who want to privatize everything–blame the failure of private companies on the government, and are not hounded for being drooling imbeciles. Politically, drug companies have no reason to engage in good behavior–there are no political consequences for not doing so. Clearly the Democrats, including President Hopey Changey, have no interest in taking on Big Pharma.
In such an environment, if swine flu turns out badly, somebody will have to take the fall, and I fear that somebody will be the CDC, which has acted admirably during this crisis.