October 21, 2004

How many ways can we say 'incompetent'?

We cartainly could use a few good synonyms for describing how badly federal health official continue to handle the flu vaccine shortage.

"We don't know where, when or how many flu vaccines have come into our areas or whether it's on the way," Mary Selecky, secretary of health for Washington State, said Thursday.

Ron Osterholm, director of the health department in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, said his county had 14,200 people who qualified under the disease control agency's strict guidelines for flu vaccines. So far, the county has received 3,816 doses of vaccines. Mr. Osterholm said he doubted that his county would receive anything close to the number of doses needed to meet demand.

Mr. Osterholm complained that federal officials kept insisting that people should calm down and contact their local health departments for information. "But we've got no information to give them. Zero. Zip," Mr. Osterholm said.

As bad as this lack of communication and direction reflects on federal health officials, it gets worse. Up until 2000, there were four manufacturers of flu vaccine, instead of the current two. In that year, King Pharmaceuticals decided to get out of the flu vaccine business, followed in 2002 by Wyeth. That left only Aventis and Chiron to supply the 100 million-plus doses of vaccine that the US needs each flu season, with Chiron supplying well over half that amount. As a result of the declining number of vaccine providers, the shutdown of Chiron's vaccine plant in the UK has had a catastrophic effect on the US flu vaccination program.

Many public health experts agree that relying on just two companies to supply all of the nation's flu vaccine needs was a mistake, since any glitch would have dire effects. Dr. Walter Orenstein, who until earlier this year was the director of the national immunization program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the government should have used incentives to coax Wyeth and King to keep making the vaccines.

"Clearly, these were huge opportunities that were missed," Dr. Orenstein said.

A spokesman for King Pharmaceuticals did not return phone calls. A spokesman for Wyeth agreed with Dr. Orenstein.

"They didn't even approach us," said Doug Petkus, a Wyeth spokesman. "We might have considered their offer if such an offer was made." [Emphasis added]

And we don't even have to tell you the identity of the high federal official on whose desk these bucks stop.

Via NY Times.

Posted by Magpie at October 21, 2004 10:37 PM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |

Hmm... here's the online Thesaurus entry:


1. Lacking capability:
inadequate, incapable, unequal, unfit, unqualified. See ability, excess.

2. Totally incapable of doing a job:
unable, unfit, unqualified. See ability.

3. Lacking the qualities, as efficiency or skill, required to produce desired results:
inapt, incapable, inefficient, inept, inexpert, unskilled, unskillful, unworkmanlike. See ability.

Posted by: natasha at October 22, 2004 01:51 AM