H1N1 Vaccines and Government Inefficiencies

I’ve started seeing a lot of people complaining about their inability to get the H1N1 Vaccine for themselves, their kids, and their pet cockatiel Roy. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the government munging this. And how the government isn’t making enough vaccines.

First off people, the government isn’t making the vaccines. It’s a company called Novartis. This is one of those private partnerships that Republicans like to talk so much about. Those partnerships that are far superior to anything the government could do. So here we are. This is (supposedly) better than the government can do. So quit your whining. Or not. Just direct it appropriately.

Novartis is delivering lots and lots of vaccines. The problem is that it’s not going to deliver vaccines for everyone who wants one. Why? Because they only have so much manufacturing capacity. And there’s no value to them of having extra H1N1 vaccine after flu season is over. They’ve done the math and exactly the number of doses that they’re making is what makes sense for them. A certain number of deaths is ok in their fiscal plan to not overbuild vaccines or manufacturing capacity.

So why isn’t the federal government that concerned? Because so far the deaths are pretty much on target with any other bad flu season. So realistically everything’s working the way it’s supposed to.

But it makes me concerned, and we should use this public outrage to do something. Does it really make sense to outsource vaccines? Isn’t this one of those things like having a military where the federal government should just have factories on standby ready to make vaccines for every American?

If we translated our vaccine policy to the military it would be like outsourcing the military, and having the private company decide that really it only made fiscal sense to have resources available to protect about 10% of the United States. The rest would probably get captured, probably some of the states would raise militias that could fight the invaders off, the wealthy would hire private security firms but we’d just accept that there would be some substantial loss of life and territory. A politician trying to sell that would have to be nuts.

And yet that’s basically our national vaccine policy. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t use private labs to develop vaccines. I think that part of the equation is working well. We should just set it up where we pay some large chunk of royalties to the company that comes up with a viable vaccine and then the US government produces it. If anything it would get more players in the market as scientists could work on developing vaccines without having to have a massive manufacturing capability to build out what they produce. Essentially the US government pays for the development of open-source vaccines to use a software analogy.

Because frankly flu vaccines are small potatoes. It’s debatable if they really work at all (since what goes in each year is just best guess). What happens when we really need a vaccine to some new disease, that’s killing more than a percentage of a percentage? And we can only provide vaccines to 10% of Americans? It seems like we’ve outsourced a pretty important part of our national security.