December 7, 2009
The H1N1 Vaccine DebacleBy Judith Loseff Lavin
Last week, a twenty-something friend of mine passed away from complications of H1N1. She was a high-risk patient with a compromised immune system. In pre-Obama days, that meant early immunization and perhaps a life saved. But times have "changed" since the government took over vaccines.
"What's particularly galling with this vaccine is that the government has control of it, basically from the beginning of production to the needle going into your skin," said Dr. Arie Friedman, a pediatrician in Lincolnshire, Il. Dr. Friedman became so concerned about ObamaCare and Obama's agenda that he threw his hat in the Republican ring for the 2010, 10th Congressional District race in Illinois.
Dr. Friedman knows from insiders: at Illinois' Lake County Public Health Department, officials were enthusiastic about being able to administer H1N1 vaccines. "They thought they could do it better than doctors. In reality, of course, the entire thing has been a disaster. How can they know how to immunize people?"
"The situation is sad when a vaccine's available and people who need it can't get it," said Dr. Barry Goldberg, a Highland Park, Il. internist. What's more, "inefficient production, distribution and administration has been recorded from New Jersey and New York to California. "It's countrywide," said Dr. Goldberg.
"We've had a free-market system that worked well," said Dr. Friedman. Doctors knew a year ahead about vaccine availability and ordered enough supplies from manufacturers. Sure, there were rare shortages -- like the one a few years ago with the seasonal flu -- but even then, those who needed vaccines got priority care. When more vaccines arrived, everyone else was vaccinated. "There was no panic, like today, and people were healthier," said Dr. Friedman.
"Controlled bedlam is the best way to describe how the nation is dealing with production, distribution and administration of the swine flu vaccine," declared a November 12, 2009 report from NorthJersey.com's Record editorial, entitled "H1N1 is Everywhere, the Vaccine is Not." And even though BusinessWeek reported that "[o]n October 23, President Barack Obama declared a national emergency," vaccines are still in short supply. "Normally, we received flu vaccines around September," said Dr. William Wittert, a Libertyville and Deerfield, Il. pediatrician. "This year we got a small amount of seasonal flu for our practice which treats five to ten thousand children. We quickly ran out. For H1N1, we only received one hundred doses for children under three."
"Why aren't people connecting the dots?" said "Ann," who wishes to remain anonymous. "This is ObamaCare -- government-run health care -- and it's a disaster." Ann's thirty-something son is chronically ill and regularly treated with major medications at a Chicago-area hospital. Yet no vaccine was available at his hospital. Instead, he took off work, waiting three hours at a local city college for medication. "It's outrageous. He's going for routine treatments at a medical center and they didn't have a vaccine for him?"
"It's a mystery, even in a large institution, as to why some get the vaccine and others won't," said Dr. Goldberg, "because it stems from the government, there are no reliable delivery routes in place."
BusinessWeek reported on Nov. 2, 2009, that there are at least 42 million at high risk for the illness. In the past, they would have been immunized first. Oddly, among the very first to receive the vaccine were not high-risk patients or hospitals, but Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.
No surprise here. "It's what always happens in a socialized/centralized system: favoritism," Dr. Friedman said.
In some spots, those insured were advised to not bother showing up for shots even if they wanted them. The government focus seemed to be on the uninsured, despite the pandemic.
Were the uninsured or under-insured ever deprived of vaccines in the past? No. Local hospitals, doctors, free clinics, and other medically sponsored programs provided care. "Immunizations were given in clean environments -- usually, doctor's offices -- insuring good record-keeping and sound decision-making," Dr. Friedman said.
Government care comes with other "perks," too: hour-long waits for immunization. "Long lines -- that's what always happens in a socialized-centralized system," said Dr. Friedman. He added that it can take up to six weeks for the immunity to fully set in even after being vaccinated.
"Often individuals who come to get vaccinated are already sick." Others may be sick but asymptomatic. High-risk patients can unwittingly be exposed to H1N1. Youngsters, who need two shots four weeks apart for immunity, are in more danger, Dr. Friedman said. "What's also disconcerting are those who waited for four to six hours for medication but didn't get vaccines because they ran out of vaccines," added Dr. Wittert.
That's not all that's changed: "Blackout" days came into vogue. Despite the pandemic, government sites in the Chicago area shut down (a long Thanksgiving holiday?) starting November 19 and did not reopen until December 5. No shots were given at the six city college sites, regardless of need. When immunizing resumes, vaccinations will be given only on three Saturdays, ending December 19.
In the free market, black-outs don't occur, especially during a pandemic. Doctors and nurses work overtime to help. "We keep an office open 365 days a year to treat people," said Dr. Wittert. "Many physicians work six or seven days a week."
Publicity claiming that those older than 65 would get a lighter case of H1N1 or be immune to it was inaccurate. "Those over age 65 may be less likely to get sick from the swine flu because of built up immunities, but if they get it, they can be just as sick as anyone else," said Dr. Friedman. "I would advise those older than 65 get vaccinated if they can," said Dr. David Sager, a Chicago-area rheumatologist.
Because of this inefficiency, the government, with mainstream media assistance, has induced panic, making people worry about not being able to get medication, said Dr. Friedman. That created other unintended negative consequences.
"Normally, I have a hard time getting people to decide to be vaccinated for seasonal flu," Dr. Friedman continued. Now there's a dramatically increased demand for seasonal flu shots, creating a flu shot shortage. "I won't get my next seasonal flu shots until the end of December -- too late, so I can't effectively immunize anyone."
Last spring, the government said they made H1N1 vaccines a public health priority. "They knew that the H1N1 outbreak could return in the fall," said Dr. Sager. "Given the risk of the virus and the certainty of its fall return, the inability to provide adequate vaccines in a timely manner is a major administrative failure by their own standards. Every date and amount that the government said it would deliver, it failed to meet."
Why didn't the government use the established system that has worked for decades?
One can only wonder.
"There definitely will be more people who die from the flu this year because of the inefficiency of the production and distribution systems," said Dr. Friedman.
"With a bill pending in Congress to give the government more control over the administration of the nation's health care system," Dr. Sager said, "the swine flu vaccine episode is a cautionary tale."
Judith Loseff Lavin, MSW, is the author of Special Kids Need Special Parents: A Resource for Parents of Children with Special Needs (Berkeley Books, NY, 2001).