Sunday, November 20, 2005

American drug companies seek to use Bird Flu threat to overturn patients' rights.

The New Fear -- Migrating birds

Why does Europe have flu vaccine, and patients' rights? Republicans in Congress assure us it can't be done.

The U.S. is unprepared for the next flu pandemic, lacking the manufacturing capacity to provide 300 million doses of a vaccine for three to five more years, Health and Human Services Secretary
Mike Leavitt said Sunday.

"What we all learned from (Hurricane) Katrina is that sometimes we have to think very clearly about the unthinkable," Leavitt said. "We're not as prepared as we need to be. ...We will not have enough for everyone."


President Bush has proposed stockpiling enough of the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza for 81 million people, a goal drug manufacturers believe they can reach by the middle of next year, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're not prepared for vaccination, that's why we need to scale up. We are doing studies to extend the value of the vaccine ... allowing us to vaccinate more people with the same doses," so the timeframe might be quicker, she said.
More of this article at: U.S. Unprepared for Super-Flu Pandemic

Yes, something needs to be done now, but what is the Republican leadership in the Congress doing?

Holding up legislation to fund Bird Flu vaccination, until the Democrats agree to let Americans lose more of their rights as patients.

People injured by a vaccine against bird flu or anthrax would have to prove willful misconduct to bring a claim for damages against drug manufacturers or distributors, according to legislation being drafted behind the scenes by Republicans.

A 10-page draft of the legislation obtained by The Associated Press says it would be up to the Health and Human Services secretary to declare that such misconduct occurred. If that declaration is made, the case must be heard in federal court.

The measure, which would be included in a spending bill, would bar any punitive damages and limit awards for physical and emotional pain and suffering and other noneconomic damages to a maximum of $250,000.

The draft legislation was provided to the AP separately by two parties opposed to its provisions, who did not want to be identified.

An aide to Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., confirmed the majority leader was looking to add the liability protections to a spending bill.

Amy Call said the legislation is important because "it would be a pity to appropriate $7.1 billion to purchase vaccines and antivirals but have no capacity to produce them."
From: Lawmakers Weigh Preventing Drugmaker Suits

The implication here is that no company will make bird flu vaccine unless given broad protection from any kind of reasonable suit. Some Congress people are warning about wording that prohibits most kinds of suits brought about because of harm coming from drugs or vaccines.

Excerpt 2:
...protections described in the draft are quite broad, and some say they would make it extremely difficult for those harmed by a medicine to get any financial compensation.

"The Republican leadership in Congress is trying to do another special favor for the drug companies by slipping a provision into a massive spending bill to absolve the pharmaceutical industry of any responsibility to patients injured by dangerous drugs or vaccines, with no compensation for those who are harmed,"

In other recent news: Novartis buys Swiss vaccine company to make bird flu vaccine.

Swiss firm Novartis already owns 42% of Chiron and had made an earlier unsuccessful bid to buy the business. It has now raised its cash offer for the remaining 58% to $5.1bn.

Its bid represents $45 a share - $$5 a share more than its original bid in September - for the company which is now gearing up for mass production of a bird flu vaccine at the Speke plant.

Formerly a low-growth business, the market for vaccines is now the fastest-growing sector of the pharmaceuticals industry, fuelled in part by government stockpiling.

"It's clear that there is an increased investor focus, government focus and public focus on anything to do with infectious diseases, particularly flu," said Jason Kantor,, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Yesterday's request by the American president includes $1.2bn to make 20m doses of the current vaccine against HN51 avian influenza, $2.8bn to accelerate new flu vaccine technology and $1bn to stockpile more antiviral drugs.

Novartis's proposal was unanimously approved by Chiron's independent directors, who had rejected the earlier bid. The new offer is $600m more than the previous bid of $4.5bn.

"Our plan is to turn around the Chiron vaccines business, which will require investments in R&D and manufacturing to increase quality and capacity," said Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Novartis.

So there are companies out there willing to do research and development and to do it with enough care and skill that they don't need to have Americans' medical rights taken from them.

I suggest we do business with those firms that will do a good job. And ignore the businesses that think they can run amok in the drug business because the Republicans are giving them special favors by destroying Americans' medical protection rights. If the firms doing well are European firms, then let them do the job.

Everyone in the Republican party would agree to that philosophy except in this instance, it seems. Why doesn't it work for vaccines, 'guys'?

Also the Liverpool Post report shows what many experts have been saying for years, that the US would get it's own flu vaccine without fail if it only had the government guarantee purchase of the product produced. What holds the US back from having it's own supplier is its tradition of letting the market decide if a manufacturer's vaccine will get sold or not.

(If you entered this article from link on sidebar, please go to top of article to see how this relates to current American politics.)


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