What is it about Americans that we have such fear of government and such blind trust in big business to solve all our problems? When we think of government, we conjure images of pale, paper-pushing bureaucratic nemotodes with thick glasses telling us, “That’s the wrong form!” But the private sector we portray as youthful, vigorous, lithely grasping the challenges of an increasingly complex world and dreaming “How can we make Earth a better place?”
Have you received your Swine Flu shot yet? Of course not. How about your kids? Perhaps, if they’re among the fortunate few. It seems the Obama Administration has had the same school-girl crush on big business. That’s why they’ve entrusted the nation’s health and the lives of our children to the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, among others, who accepted the $2 billion contract but neglected to tell Uncle Sam that creating influenza vaccines was not high on their priority list. To be honest, they’d much rather focus on more life-threatening (read remunerative) diseases, such as high cholesterol and gastric reflux. These alone bring in billions for the industry. Manufacturing flu vaccines are hardly worth the trouble, since they constantly have to be modified, and the government determines who gets them. Even the production technology is slow and decades old, requiring roughly one chicken egg per dose. Sure, more cutting-edge, cell-based technology is available, but why it wasn’t used is best left to conjecture.
Perhaps this half-hearted approach to public health is why the companies promised 160 million doses by the end of October, and so far only 28 million have arrived. That’s quite a miscalculation, even for the CDC.
Ever wonder why power production technology continues to progress while the nation’s power delivery system is a century old? Europeans laugh at our quaint telephone and electric poles. There’s no money in delivering power, you see, only in producing it, and the government has failed to step into the gap to bring the country’s power grid into the 20th century (let alone the 21st).
The same problem exists when it comes to public health. An industry driven by profit cannot be trusted to look out for the interests even of its own people. If we want to stave off such crises in the future, we will have to cool our love affair with big business and dance with the one what brung us.
(Thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich for her Nov. 3 article in the Huffington Post, “The Swine Flu Vaccine Screw Up”)