Thursday, October 29, 2009

Colossal failure of government and ethics

Swine flu (H1N1) is coming, maybe big-time, and there’s not enough vaccine to go around. What to do? This flu is unlike the annual “seasonal” flu: it’s dangerous, even deadly, to healthy young adults to whom seasonal flu is just a nuisance. Seniors, who are at serious risk from seasonal flu, seem to be resistant to the disease.

So the CDC, the U.S. Government’s Centers for Disease Control, recommended that, as long as vaccine was in short supply it be allocated according to these priorities, based on risk:

  1. Pregnant women
  2. Household contacts and caregivers for infants younger than 6 months
  3. Healthcare and emergency medical services
  4. All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
  5. Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

When Los Angeles County set up free clinics to immunize people at highest risk, lots of healthy people over 24 years old—and therefore the least vulnerable population—showed up, got the vaccine, and caused many centers to run out before they could take care of the most vulnerable. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, L.A. County public health director disclaimed responsibility for the screw-up: “What do we say [to people who came a distance with their families]—we’ll do your children but we won’t do you?”

Well, duh! What do you think we have a county public health department for, Dr. Fielding? Orange County, by contrast, refused vaccine to people who didn’t need it. So did Phoenix and Las Vegas, according to the Los Angeles Times.

How about the healthy older adults who got their dose at the expense of someone who could die from H1N1? How ethical is that!

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