October 23, 2004

They Even Lie About the Flu

What's the Difference Between Iraq and Vietnam?
Bush Had a Plan to Get Out of Vietnam.

(Thanks to the website associated with Micah Ian Wright's book.)

Credit to Al Franken for the joke. From Digby comes this email that is travelling around the nutball circuit:

Almost half of the nation's flu vaccine will not be delivered this year. Chiron, a major manufacturer of flu vaccine, will not be distributing any influenza vaccine this flu season. Chiron was to make 46-48 million doses vaccine for the United States. Chiron is a British company. Recently British health officials stopped Chiron from distributing and making the vaccine when inspectors found unsanitary conditions in the labs. Some lots of the vaccine were recalled and destroyed.

Why is our vaccine made in the UK and not the US?

The major pharmaceutical companies in the US provided almost 90% of the nations flu vaccine at one time. They did this despite a very low profit margin for the product. Basically, they were doing us a favor.

In the late 80's a man from North Carolina who had received the vaccine got the flu. The strain he caught was one of the strains in that years Vaccine made by a US company. What did he do? He sued and he won. He was awarded almost $5 million! After that case was appealed and lost, most US pharmaceutical companies stopped making the vaccine. The liability out weighed the profit margin. Since UK and Canadian laws prohibit such frivolous law suits UK and Canadian companies began selling the vaccine in the US.

By the way...the lawyer that represented the man in the flu shot lawsuit was a young ambulance chaser by the name of John Edwards.

I quote the whole thing because so much of it is incredibly misleading and some of it is laughably false and easily disproven. Snopes hits the highlights of this urban legend fairly effectively, and I will append their lengthy response to this myth at the end. The main point is that emails like this, which are lapped up by Bush-supporters, are the primary sources of information for them. How else to explain their staggering levels of ignorance and misinformation:

A new study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) shows that supporters of President Bush hold wildly inaccurate views about the world. For example, "a large majority [72 percent] of Bush supporters believe that before the war Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." Most Bush supporters [57 percent] also believe that the recently released report by Charles Duelfer, the administration's hand-picked weapons inspector, concluded Iraq either had WMD or a major program for developing them. In fact, the report concluded "Saddam Hussein did not produce or possess any weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade before the U.S.-led invasion" and the U.N. inspection regime had "curbed his ability to build or develop weapons."

According to the study, 75 percent Bush supporters also believe "Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda." Most Bush supporters [55 percent] believe that was the conclusion of the 9/11 commission. In fact, the 9/11 commission concluded there was no "collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

Bush supporters also hold inaccurate views about world public opinion of the war in Iraq and a range of Bush's foreign policy positions.

From much more, see this Salon article. These are the kinds of people I'm talking about when I use the term "Moron Americans". With rights come responsibilities, and people who have the right to vote have the responsibility to cast an informed vote. Sure, people on both sides are misinformed, but I've never seen an administration go so far out of its way to foster such nonsense (i.e. the 9/11-Saddam link, to name of one of a great many).

And it works. Crap like this creates a cloud of "maybe beliefs" to comfort the stupid Bush-voter and make them feel ok about pulling the lever. After the election, they will just shrug their shoulders and say, "Aw, shucks, how could I have known?" And I'll be calling them Moron Americans, and they'll get all mad at me and probably knee-jerk vote Republican in the next election, too. Oh well, I'm not going to kiss anybody's ass to get them to vote smart. It should be their patriotic duty, and anybody who is voting for reasons other than what they think is in the best interests of America shouldn't be voting.

Anyway, I'll hand it over to Snopes to help you understand just how full of shit that John Edwards/flu vaccine urban legend is. The fault lies with this administration, and that's the plain truth:

Two major problems with this political screed, which attempts to attribute a shortage of flu vaccine to a lawsuit handled to Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate:

- Chiron, the corporation mentioned in this piece as an example of a "British company" that has taken over the manufacture of flu vaccine from American companies supposedly driven out of business by liability lawsuits, is not a British company. It is an American company headquartered in Emeryville, California, which last year purchased British vaccine maker Powderject and a flu vaccine plant in Liverpool, England.

- American manufacturers did not produce flu vaccine until liability lawsuits made it impossible for them to continue doing so. Most American pharmaceutical companies got out of the flu vaccine market because a variety of factors (not related to lawsuits) make it an unattractive line of business:

Flu viruses mutate easily, so new flu vaccine formulas have to be made up every year.

Because a different flu vaccine is used each season, unsold doses cannot be saved and end up being destroyed (along with any potential profits).

The production of flu vaccine (and the requirement of meeting Food and Drug Administration standards) is a labor-intensive process. Flu vaccine is made by injecting virus into fertilized chicken eggs each egg must be hand-inspected and hand-injected and produces only 4 or 5 doses of vaccine.

Because flu vaccine is a commodity (i.e., the same product can be made by many different companies) and much of the available supply is bought up in large orders by the government, the market price of vaccine and the profit to be made from selling it has been quite low. (The global market for vaccine is about $6 billion a year, while the global market for drugs is about $340 billion a year. Which of these two markets a pharmaceutical company should concentrate on is a no-brainer.)

Sometime within the next several years, the flu vaccine industry will switch to growing vaccine in cell cultures rather than eggs, a much easier and cheaper process. No new entrant to the flu vaccine market is going to spend several years and millions of dollars investing in a process that will soon become obsolete.

A recent article in the Washington Post chronicled the travails of Wyeth, one of many companies that has abandoned the flu vaccine market in the last few years:

For two decades, Wyeth made injectable influenza vaccine at a plant in Marietta, Pa. For the winter of 2002-03, it made 21 million doses in a labor-intensive, time-crunched process and shipped them to clinics and doctors' offices early in the fall.

But it turned out a lot fewer people wanted it. Flu vaccine can't be saved from year to year. So, sometime the next spring Wyeth threw away 7 million unsold doses, for a loss of $30 million. It then quit making flu shots. It eventually closed the Marietta plant, which once employed 800 people.

But Wyeth wasn't out of the flu vaccine business yet.

It was a partner with the Maryland biotech company, MedImmune, in making what they considered the flu shot of the future a "live" virus vaccine squirted up the nose. They made 5 million doses of FluMist for last winter, the product's inaugural season. But FluMist never found its market. Only 450,000 doses were sold; the rest were thrown away.

Over three seasons, Wyeth lost $50 million from unsold flu vaccine. It was also facing millions of dollars in required improvements to keep its plant up to standards required by the Food and Drug Administration.

Last April, Wyeth pulled out. It was done with flu vaccine.

Wyeth's decisions go a long way toward explaining why the United States the world's richest market for medical products finds itself with only half the amount of vaccine it needs to protect its population against a disease that may contribute to more than 50,000 deaths this year.

The company's exit is part of a long, slow industry-wide flight away from flu vaccine, which has simply become more trouble than it's worth.

"It shouldn't be surprising to anybody," said Gregory A. Poland, director of the vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic, in Minnesota. "In fact, I marvel that there are companies willing to stay in the business."

Litigation against vaccine manufacturers (not over flu vaccine specificially, but vaccines in general, particularly those that used thimerosal as a preservative) did create some shortages prior to the mid-1980s, but the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 eliminated most of those lawsuits through the creation of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ( VICP ), a no-fault compensation alternative to suing vaccine manufacturers and providers for people injured or killed by vaccines. According to a 2003 report by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), "vaccine shortages do not appear to be liability related":

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) enacted in the late 1980s has been of immense value in stabilizing the vaccine market. Prior to its enactment, litigation led to national shortages, withdrawal of manufacturers from the marketplace, and instability of supply of essential childhood vaccines. The VICP was designed to compensate individuals who suffered a serious adverse event as a result of administration of a covered vaccine in a manner that was rapid, simple, generous and appropriate.

The VICP has assisted in stimulating the availability of new vaccines since its inception in 1988. Despite the success of the program, criticism of the VICP could lead to significant legislative changes, including a more relaxed burden of proof standard for determining eligibility for compensation. Today, litigation again threatens stability of the vaccine program in the form of class action law suits, exemplified by those that have been filed involving vaccines that contain thimerosal. The VICP is currently understaffed to meet the new increased numbers of claims.

While current vaccine shortages do not appear to be liability related, the VICP should be maintained and strengthened as supported by scientific evidence, including continuing expansion of VICP to include additional vaccines as they are recommended for routine administration to children. The VICP coverage of vaccines should recognize that "vaccine" includes the active ingredient as well as preservatives, additives and other excipients. Strengthening the VICP would benefit manufacturers, providers and consumers and further safeguard the nation's vaccine supply.

Regarding the claim that John Edwards secured a $5 million judgment against a U.S. pharmacutical company on a flu vaccine case, while it is true he had a highly successful legal career representing individuals who had been badly harmed by malfunctioning products or the mistakes of doctors and hospitals, with some even saying he won $175 million for his clients over 12 years, at this point it's not known if he ever litigated a flu vaccine case, or if so, what the outcome of such a trial was.

So, to recap: The first email I quoted is an example of a dishonest and misleading message. The Snopes article is an example of a fair and honest accounting of the facts. I'm trying to help stupid conservatives out there (as opposed to the smart ones who oppose Bush) understand the difference. If Bush-supporters have such a great case to make for their Boy King, why is it that they can't stop lying?

Posted by Observer at October 23, 2004 09:02 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

You have to admit that Saddam did go to extremes to convince the world that he had WMDs.

Posted by: Humbaba on October 23, 2004 10:27 AM

Sure, I'll admit that. It's well-documented. Now if only the Bush administration would admit that they knew better before the war. That has also been well-documented.

Posted by: Observer on October 23, 2004 01:11 PM

I suspect that developing WMDs for Saddam was like alchemy back in the 10th Century. It was a way for a smart but otherwise wimpy guy to get large amounts of goodies from the despot plausibly but fraudulently. They knew it couldn't really be done, but it was a living, and a decent one. You can always show signs of progress enough to keep the cash coming, because on the despot's scale of finance, you aren't asking for much.

Anyone good enough to have a shot at making real bombs or supergerms or serious chemical weapons would be able to get a job in the West where one's job and life security are better in the long run. That leaves just the ideologues, nitwits, and the guys who want to be one of those sci-fi/pulp stereotypes and think all they need to do it is the maniacal laugh and some start-up money. Since Israel demonstrated a couple decades ago what they'd do to any remotely plausible nuke project, anyone with real brains would go work elsewhere rather than know the F-15s would fly in someday and trash their work.

Posted by: Feff on October 25, 2004 10:38 AM

the post about how "anyone good" would be in the West is ridiculous, once again you are looking at the middle-east through an American's eyes. the soviet union treated the scientists terribly compared to western standards, and they were the first in space, 2nd with nuclear capabilities, and had more weapons that the US at one point. also, people raised in an Islamic state have a very different sense of duty than you or i. many of them believe that israel and its friends are the enemy of all arab people and must be eliminated. therefore they may shun the comforts of the west and use their skills to fight us. your post is the worst rational of the situation i have ever read. how does the fact that the US treats their people better prove anything about Iraqs weapons cache?

Posted by: Conserv1 on October 25, 2004 01:36 PM

What in the hell are you talking about? At least the other troll's comment today was relevant to the actual situation discussed in the post.

This comment brings to mind the famous Enrico Fermi quote on a student's exam answer; This isn't right. This isn't even wrong!

Posted by: Observer on October 25, 2004 02:18 PM

1 week from tomorrow you will see that most of america can NOT be hoodwinked by the democratic party. ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, along with yahoo.com, have all lied, cheated, and stole about one fact after another to try to help that communist bastard Kerry win the White House. God bless America, 4 more years. After we beat down Kerry a week from tomorrow, we can start planning the beating down of that bisexual queer lover, Hillary, who will run in 2008. There is one major reason Hillary will not win, RICE. The first women/black to be president. This southern white boy is behind her 110%.

Posted by: jamie roper on October 25, 2004 03:27 PM

All these troll comments, but not a single one cares to offer a shred of evidence or argument to refute anything I'm saying. Just a bunch of juvenile name calling and trash talking. I deleted one of 'em earlier that was just too foul, but I probably shouldn't have. I'm going to let the trolls speak out in their full glory.

I want Bush-supporters who visit my blog to see exactly what kind of people are on their side. As for the Democrats "hoodwinking" America, sorry, but it is the Republicans and Bush-supporters who appear to be the fools. They're the ones who think Iraq had WMD's, that it had links to Al Qaeda, etc.

Hell, a majority of Bush supporters even think that Bush supports the Kyoto treaty. Where the hell is that coming from?!??! For references on that study about misinformed Bush-supporters from my previous post, check here.

Posted by: Observer on October 25, 2004 04:24 PM

Well, the point about different loyalties is worth thinking about. I admit there's a chance of that.

I am not familiar enough with the Soviet weapons programs and the living conditions of physicists behind the Iron Curtain, though there's a lot of stuff published about that now. What is well known is that Klaus Fuchs passed on the H-bomb knowledge to the Soviets from the Americans, so they didn't have to invent that wheel. They just had to build the infrastructure to build the bombs, and Stalin and successors were willing to do that.

The Soviets also rounded up a bunch of the German V-2 brain trust, much as the Americans did, and concentrated on missiles because they lacked the aircraft industry of the West which built intercontinental bombers. Their booster technology stagnated after Korolev was killed in an accident in the 1960s, well after they had operational ICBMs but before the moon launcher was properly engineered.

Nowadays, for nuclear weapons, the problem is not the breakthrough of how you make something go bang, but how you can get the fissile material that does the bang (or for fusion weapons, starts the big part of the bang). Making that stuff is big, expensive, and cannot be hidden, and when it starts looking like its close to completion it can be destroyed with an air strike. Israel did that to Iraq a couple decades ago, and there's been a lot of speculation in the press about whether they're goign to do it again to Iran. If you can buy or steal the fissile material, that's another matter, but there are so many terrorists/rogue states/etc. out there trying to get that material it is at least a competitive market. :-/

For biological and chemical weapons, those are different stories. I cheerfully admit I know next to nothing about what sort of infrastructure it takes to make those in the kind of quantity needed to make for "WMD" status. And that's where the key is. Scaling up to make large enough quantities of the stuff (and, for biological weapons, the countermeasures needed to make sure your own ruling elite and cast of supporting characters at least doesn't die when the weapon is used) is really the problem. Yes, I'm willing to believe a sample can be made in a hospital or something by someone in Iraq. Scaling that up to build enough to take out multiple cities ... that's an entirely different scale. I have seen some feeble arguments that among the wreckage in Iraq there were components that were going to build such facilities, but I don't find those arguments convincing.

(There's some chance that that's what it was supposed to be, but it was hopelessly incompetently done. In other words, maybe Saddam really thought he was making some sort of WMD factory, and that he had charlatan, incompentent, or perhaps subversive weapons experts running the show telling him what he wanted to hear, while ending up with something that is not clearly recognizeable as a weapons plant.)

What *is* certain is that there isn't the "critical mass" of intellectuals in the Islamic world to be able to develop all that stuff in-house. Lots of the brain power has to go outside for training. That takes time, and it's a pretty lossy pipeline. Lots of those smart folks decide not to go back. By no means all, but some.

A better analog than the Soviets is Nazi Germany. They had still had folks like Heisenberg and von Braun after Hitler scared a galaxy of intellectuals out of the Continent. They weren't able to make an atomic bomb, mostly because their team wasn't big enough to do the Manhattan Project. Von Braun was able to invent the ballistic missile, and that, I guess, is the scale of thing we have to worry about coming from dedicated Islamic weapons groups. Bad enough, I guess, but I haven't heard of anything like Peenemunde being found in Iraq.

Posted by: Feff on October 25, 2004 06:18 PM