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November 04, 2005

Backwards on Bird Flu

This sort of superstition, cultural resistance, and denial of modern science will, if the bird flu erupts across the globe, be a primary mover in the disaster:

When the half-starved chickens started dying this summer and the barefoot children developed fevers here in this village of thatched huts and emerald rice fields, residents were terrified and deeply divided about the cause of their misfortune.

Some blamed bird flu and took their weakened children to a clinic in a nearby provincial city, where a medic diagnosed human influenza instead. But other residents said it was witchcraft by the only village resident not born here, 53-year-old Som Sorn, who moved here eight years ago when she married an elderly local farmer.

When Mrs. Som Sorn's husband went into the jungle to cut wood one afternoon and she began cooking rice over a fire on the dirt floor of her hut, a local man with a machete took action and later collected $30 in donations from grateful neighbors, a month's wages.

"The assassin grabbed her hair, pulled her head back and cut her throat," said Ya Pheorng, the village leader. "Her neck was almost completely severed."

Much like AIDS, where local witch doctors and government leaders alike told afflicted Africans that their troubles stemmed from magic, unless the WHO and local governments work to convince villagers of the viral nature of bird flu, we're going to have no chance of stopping its spread.  Thanks to transportation advances, globalization, and a host of other movers, the poorest and most backwards Indonesian peasant can, with but a few degrees of separation, pass her illness onto you or I.  I've no solutions, but it's a huge problem.

November 4, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

I hate to hurl blame, except at Hillary Clinton, trial lawyers and liberals.

Why don't we have the capability locally(in the US) to mass produce vaccine?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 4, 2005 2:34:13 PM

Because of Republican deference to Big Pharma's preferences.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 4, 2005 2:53:30 PM

What's a bigger problem is the hysteria, which results from any narrative scenario relating to the putative end of the world. We are all mortal. The world will not end any time soon, but each of us will. Disaster-porn imagining deadly flu pandemics to rival the Black Death of the 14th century, alien invasions, volcanoes and earthquakes and hurricanes are popular, no doubt serve a psychological purpose, but are poor guides to public policy.

Bush proposed an enormously costly vaccine program, with no liability to vaccine producers and no insurance for victims of the vaccine. Did anyone notice? Does anyone care?

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Nov 4, 2005 3:02:12 PM

Gee, what does this remind me of? Oh yeah, the fundamentalists/sex hysterics protesting the anti cervical cancer vaccine because it could theoreticlaly promote unchastity. The poor, the distant, and the *foreign* culturally disenfranchised are by no means our only worry. Frankly, ignorance, superstition, and childish rage are rampant here at home.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Nov 4, 2005 3:11:12 PM

Illnesses from vaccine's is an interesting problem. The simple fact is, a vaccine will cause some people to become sick, and some of those people will die. This isn't because the vaccine is 'faulty' or anything, it is just an artifact of people responding differently to the same thing.

Most people of course are better off with the vaccine, and the public as a whole is tremendously better off if the vaccine prevents a mass outbreak. The needs of the many and all that.

If we let vaccine producers be sued it would of course increase the cost of these drugs. That in turn would lower the use of them, decreasing their social utility. If their is a 1 in a million chance of death from a vaccine (not bad odds) and a company has to pay out a $10 million dollar settlement for each death (not impossible) then you have just increased the cost of each dose of the vaccine by $10.

The public effect is even worse though. Companies in general are usually risk averse and don't like unknowns. One big unknown is how much courts will assign in liability. If profit margins on a vaccine are small (which they are) then it makes better business sense just to not produce the vaccine. The risk isn't worth it.

From a public policy sense, the question is do we want to sacrifice a few for the good of the whole and how should be deal with that.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Nov 4, 2005 3:18:22 PM

It wouldn't have anything to do with Hillary?

"Everyone knows America's vaccine industry is in serious trouble, with an ever dwindling number of producers and recent severe vaccine shortages. What everyone also should know is that the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine has now pinned much of the blame on the government vaccine-buying program promoted by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to the Wall Street Journal.

...

The root of this government role goes back to August 1993, when Congress passed Clinton's Vaccines for Children program.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 4, 2005 3:27:34 PM

Yes, Captain, it's well known that Hillary is culpable. However, my comment is about the doctors.

I first went to my local pharmacy to see if they had Tamiflu in stock and they said that they had plenty. I went to my physician and asked for two courses of Tamiflu to keep around, just in case. This guy told me no and said that there has been a run on this drug and that those who needed it would not have it available, etc. What really irked me is that he was making social decisions instead of looking out for my best interests. If I wait and there is, indeed, an outbreak of bird flu, there won't be any drug to be had! What an ass! I fired him on the spot. I have since secured the two courses that I asked for on the 'net.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 4, 2005 3:45:56 PM

The bad thing about not being able to produce vaccine ourselves is that if there is a worldwide pandemic(now or in the future) and we are getting our vaccine from foreign producers, those producers will hold any vaccine, if there is an emergency, for their own people. Americans will be shit out of luck.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 4, 2005 4:04:46 PM

The bad thing about not being able to produce vaccine ourselves is that if there is a worldwide pandemic(now or in the future) and we are getting our vaccine from foreign producers, those producers will hold any vaccine, if there is an emergency, for their own people. Americans will be shit out of luck.

The same argument can be made for energy independence. Why would anyone block drilling anywhere in the US that there is oil such as ANWR and especially the offshore stuff in CA or FL?? How smart is that really in the long run? Those who reactively reject any drilling are myopic dolts.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 4, 2005 4:10:11 PM

I thought they same thing Fred. A lot of liberal experiments are coming back to hurt this country.

How is the black community doing with that "Great Society"? Is that helping them out, as a community?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 4, 2005 4:19:53 PM

Captain,

It was billled as the "war on poverty". Billions and billions were thrown at the problem, and little has changed. Money is important, but not, I suspect, the key to getting out of poverty that desire is.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 4, 2005 4:44:09 PM

Watching Toke and Fred is like watching a schizophrenic have a conversation with himself.

As if the problem of access to the vaccine wouldn't be the same if it were reversed and it were American pharm companies stockpiling here, to sell to France at exhorbinant fees, if we have any left over. How many wingers would stockpile vaccines, just to insure that the EU couldn't get any? My guess is, Fred and Toke would have vaccine parties, laughing at the scenes of plague and devestation on the TV, glad that it's happening Over There, rather than here.

Everyone deserves access to medicine. Everyone. That's what Hillary was proposing back in '93, that the US Government flex its muscle and force the big Pharm Companies to play ball with the rest of the world, inside of a national healthcare framework. Instead, we got hissy fits from Newt Gingritch about the Evils of Socialism. Thanks, Newt. Now, while the Canadians are busy innoculating everyone for a third the price per shot, we in the US will have rioting in the streets, all because PharmCo greased the palm of W so that they wouldn't have to make their drugs affordable to the poor scum.

But hay, that's compasionate conservatism for you.

Posted by: Keith | Nov 4, 2005 4:46:03 PM

"As if the problem of access to the vaccine wouldn't be the same if it were reversed and it were American pharm companies stockpiling here,"

I guess we'll never know. Thank Hillary that the rest of the world is OK, Americans may suffer, but Americans deserve to, eh Keith? I mean if the roles were reversed, the US would never help another country.

"Everyone deserves access to medicine. Everyone. That's what Hillary was proposing back in '93, that the US Government flex its muscle and force the big Pharm Companies to play ball"

Oh, so as long as the intention was good, it doesn't matter if it has backfired on US citizens.

Well, I guess that is about all liberals got. I mean, the "great society" was meant to help the poor and blacks, yet it has destroyed poor and black families. The prohibition from producing our own fuel by the environmentalists has left this country dependent on foreign oil, but the intention was good, right?

"we got hissy fits from Newt Gingritch about the Evils of Socialism"

What Newt was saying was kind of prophetic, don't you think Keith?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 4, 2005 5:14:08 PM

Yes, Toke, the US is much more socialist now than it was in 1993, and it's getting steadily worse to boot. If only we could get those socialists out of office.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Nov 4, 2005 5:22:27 PM

Well *I* trace our current problems getting Avian flu vaccine to the policies of Grover Cleveland in the 1880s!

Posted by: Julian Elson | Nov 4, 2005 6:00:43 PM

So, Ezra Klein's blog is now ALT-FREE-REPUBLIC, with Fred and the Captain as the lead disinformation specialists.

The six-part, 336 minute, TV series "Rx for Survival" (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/rxforsurvival/) aired this week on PBS on global health discussed all of the problems of containing infectious diseases and administering public health even in the poorest nations on the planet. It is a moving, informing, and breathtaking series. The best TV I've even seen on these multi-faceted problems.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Nov 4, 2005 8:03:59 PM

Nowhere did I, or anyone else but you, Toke, ever say or even imply that healthcare has to be an either them or us scenerio.

If we had Universal Health Care and politicians not in the poket of Big Pharma, we, and the world, might be able to devise a rational plan of action that could benefit everyone, here and abroad. It might also get back some of that good will that Bush blew in the last five years.

Of course, that won't happen, because there's no profit to be had in helping people. At least, that's what the Free Market Fundamentalists have decreed and since they run the government, it is so.

Posted by: Keith | Nov 4, 2005 9:18:45 PM

Note that the blame-Hillary thing from the WSJ that Capt. Toke quoted was from the extraordinarily conservative and unreliable editorial page rather than the respectable news pages.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Nov 5, 2005 9:57:01 AM

Hey weiner,

"rather than the respectable news pages."

Like the NYT?

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHhhahahahahhaha.......hahahahahahhahahahaha......ohhhh my! Phwew!

You should check the accuracy ratings, retractions, corrections etc. of those two papers.

Has the Left really resorted to attacking the messenger? Especially when this particular messenger has a much better accuracy rating than anything the Left relies on?

Funny how you didn't dispute any of the facts, weiner.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Nov 5, 2005 10:33:20 AM

Captain, how is it that you can write (not well, mind you), but not read? "the respectable news pages" refers to the WSJ. Every day you're more of a joke.

That's possibly the most amazing thing about you.

Posted by: TJ | Nov 5, 2005 1:01:21 PM

Funny how you didn't dispute any of the facts, weiner.

He can't. Remember, Toke, what you are hearing is the constant whining of stuck pigs who have been voted out of power on every front and on every occasion. They just can't believe that the "little people" won't listen to their obviously superior ideas. They are insulted and amazed.

Good.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 5, 2005 9:05:06 PM

Dispute th efacts? Your little rants have no facts to dispute. Shorter Toke and fred: Hillary is Evil!!!!!

Posted by: Keith | Nov 5, 2005 10:43:40 PM

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