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From: (Steve Harris
Date: 9 Oct 2004 17:09:30 -0700
Message-ID: <>

Carey Gregory <> wrote in message

> Tim May <> wrote:
> >
> >[deleted] is offering top dollar for your flu
> >vaccines. Our clients are seeking 17 million vaccinations, and are
> >prepared to outbid any offers from others.
> Well now, that didn't take long....


Well, it's pretty interesting as a satirical troll-piece

And it does some good. By talking about rich people perhaps buying
rationed healthcare that the poor might need worse, it raises a
question that is a perennial favorite in medicine. Which is whether or
not we let people with more money pay for better medical care, in the
same way we let them pay for better food, housing, cars, clothes, etc,
etc. Or if we should even allow people who want to pay more of their
discretionary income, have more medical care than people who don't.

Last night I watched the US congressional hearings on the flu vaccine
shortage, and watched congress people grilling representatives from
the main fed agencies involved-- FDA, CDC, and NIH. One of the more
interesting parts occurred when Dr. Anthony Fauci (the NIH guy,
usually better known as Mr. AIDS) noted that part of the reason for
the vaccine shortage was the absence of market interest for big pharm
companies. Flu vaccine production as we know it involves using mass
quantities of chicken eggs in a very complicated and messy process,
subject to quality control disasters (like this year), and which even
if it goes well, produces a product which is used once a year (at
most) and sells for $6. Which is roughly the price of ONE Viagra pill,
or a couple of Lipitors. So who the devil would go into THAT business?
The antibiotic development business has been going downhill for 30
years because it chronically suffers from relative lack of consumer
need (compared with say, blood pressure pills)--- and the vaccine
business is even worse.

Part of the difficulty is the fickle "now-oriented" consumer, of
course. People only bought part of the stock of the nasal "live" flu
vaccine last year, which caused the company that makes it to downsize
their production to 25% this year, when we *really* could use it.
Wups.  In years when there's plenty of vaccine, consumers geek at
putting something expensive up their nose, or even at paying $6 for a
shot in the arm, until the flu is all around them. But in time when
there's a shortage of vaccine, people line up for it in an ugly way
like passengers trying to get on the last lifeboat of the Titanic.
There's no better way to make people want something in a panic, than
by telling them they maybe can't have it.

That's happening this year. It seems we're left without our mental
comfort-blanket. Before this year, we generally COULD get a flu shot
at the beginning of the season, IF we wanted it. Though 2 out of 3 of
us wouldn't. But now what?  Well NOW, we all want it. And if we can't
get it, it's bad. And when you tell people that something bad is about
to happen, even if it involves their septic tank, the first thing they
do is wonder what the feds are going to do about it. Should the feds
go into the vaccine business? Should the feds mandate rationing of
vaccine to proper high-risk groups, and people who need it most?
Surely if we can have a fascist organization doing that for livers and
hearts (check out UNOS/OPTN) we can do it for vaccines, can't we?

Answer: obviously the feds can do just about anything they want to,
until stopped by mass voter uprising. Although to her eternal credit
the CDC head doctor Gelberding said it wasn't clear if the government
stepping in to mandate proper rationing would improve things or just
make more of a "mess."  But at the end of the hearing, everybody went
home to think about ways the government can meddle more with this
problematic situation which involves too much government meddling

There is a basic problem of human nature, here. We humans respond very
queerly to risk. Let a couple of hijacked jets hit downtown Manhattan
or Washington, and suddenly people in Weedpatch California are
stocking up on supplies in case the next terrorist jumbo jet should
land on them. And we'll all pay thousands of dollars apiece in taxes
for the war on terror (including the odd war in Iraq), when we won't
pay $6 a year for a flu shot, in an average year when 10 times more
people die of the flu than in all the 9/11 attacks.  Does this make
sense?  No. But alas, if you amplify irrationality, you get
representative government.

In a rational world, we'd distribute the remaining 50%, or 50 million
doses of vaccine, by economic means.  The last company with any
vaccine, Aventis, would be allowed to put it all up in lots, on eBay.
Then, if the state and local government decided that were some
disadvantaged people who couldn't pay the market price on their own,
they'd be free to tax the rest of us to obtain enough vaccine to cover
the poor, by competing with everybody else to get it from eBay.

Fluctuations of price of commodities in response to varying supply and
demand are nothing new. In fact, they are a law of economics which
approaches a law of nature. It happens with oil. It happens with
antibiotics (remember Cipro and the anthrax scare). In fact, the price
of Roche's antiviral flu drug Tamiflu has been pushed to more than
double since last year, in part because the Feds have begun to
stockpile it since then. They might just as well have been buying it
on eBay, but of course nobody wants to talk of it that way. It would
be far too crass.

But vaccines are viewed to be different, even from antiviral
medicines, for some reason. When anybody talked about vaccine price
increases in last night's congressional hearing, it came under the
heading of "price gouging."   Nobody would stand for that.  When the
topic of "price gouging" came up, the CDC's Dr. Gelberding, who
informs us that she's a hearty Dakotan, looked like she'd swallowed a
prairie grasshopper. Needless to say, she was against it.

But here's a problem: one man's "price gouging" is another man's
"market adjustment." Prices carry information in a free market about
what people want. And businesses respond to prices, not congressional
or government agency hot air. If the price of this year's vaccine were
allowed to float, then the remaining manufacturer would certainly make
a huge "windfall profit."  Which would certainly serve to reward it
for being the last player left in a mean and dirty little formerly
unrewarding market which nobody else either wanted to go into, or
could survive the high standards of.

Well, we can't have that, can we?

But savor the irony. Not half an hour after Dr. Fauci quit speaking to
the fact that we're down to one last vaccine manufacturer in the
market, because the prices of vaccines are so low, everybody in the
caucus room was talking about how there must be strong laws against
"price gouging," so that prices for the remaining vaccine made by the
last company standing, won't go up. And none of the experts in
medicine and law in the room managed to put 2 and 2 together, for the
whole night. But they did complain mightily about the situation.

We come now to what appears to be a nasty little fact. A shot of flu
vaccine costs $6, and yet even with the supply cut in half and only
one manufacturer left in the world licensed by the US government,
congress still doesn't want anybody to spend more than $6 for a flu
shot. This strange fact in a world where even movies in a theater cost
more than $6, and in which (as we noted) we lose 10 times more people
to the flu *each year* than to the worst act of terrorism in history.
What's wrong with this picture?

We mentioned that the law of supply and demand was nothing new. It is
unfortunate that also nothing new is the government penchant for
thinking that they can interfere with economic law, by setting prices
for needed commodities at any level they like.  This never works, but
governments keep trying it. Unfortunately, laws of economics dictate
that when prices are artificially set below market price, product
disappears completely from shelves, leading to long lines and
rationing. Think of the old USSR and their consumer lines. Governments
which keep on setting artificially low controlled prices, eventually
see their businesses and economies ultimately collapse.

We are now at the same point in the vaccine business that the Soviets
eventually came to in the bread businesses. Production is down.
Shelves are bare. Lines are starting to form. The government is
starting to talk about more laws and community sacrifice.

And yet, we know the answers to all these things, for we once taught
them to the USSR. And then, apparently, we forgot them ourselves.


From: (Steve Harris
Subject: Re: Flu Shot Info
Date: 24 Oct 2004 14:52:30 -0700
Message-ID: <> (David Wright) wrote in message

> This "article," which purports to show that the current flu vax
> shortage is the fault of vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, is
> a lie.  See
> for details.  Among the stupider claims in the "article" is that
> Chiron is a British company.  It's not; Chiron is a Californa
> corporation.


It's a multinational with corporate headquarters in California. Chiron
Vaccines, the Chiron subdivision which makes vaccines, is
headquartered in the U.K.  But also makes vaccines in Germany and

Lost in this entire debate is why we don't simply buy some vaccine
from Chiron's plants in Germany or Italy. But I think we all
understand by now that this is an FDA powertrip we're seeing. The FDA
doesn't really think thousands people are going to die from vaccine
contamination, and they have an idea that thousands of people WILL die
from lack of vaccine this year. But the point is, they have no reason
to care. One outcome won't affect the FDA, and the other will. People
who die of the flu will be seen as dying of pneumonia. Or flu. But not
of FDA stenosis. So the downside politically is small. However, if
even one person demonstrably dies of contaminated vaccine, the
political downside is huge. This is the kind of decision that
individuals make for themselves badly, but that governments, which
have no stake in the pain for withholding treatment, but a large stake
in the pain for when the treatment is bad, typically screw up even

Putting the remaining killed and live vaccine on eBAY would solve a
GREAT many problems. Let the price float. Let people pay through the
nose for something they put UP their nose. That will teach them true

And as for next year, let's have people individually order their
vaccines a year ahead, like booking a ticket for an airline or cuise a
very long time in advance, so you get the best price. That will tell
the manufacturers how many doses they are SUBSCRIBED to sell, and
allow them to do some needed investment and planning. It's really no
different from the problem of the airlines.

(He says, sheepishly realizing that airlines haven't figured out a way
to make any real money, either).

Anyway, as a physician and director of a lab I booked my FluMist and
Chiron vaccine 6 months ahead this last year, so some of this happens
at the level of the private office or lab. The Chiron fell through, of
course, but the FluMist didn't. We should be allowing private
individuals to be reserving themselves a dose of flu vaccine for the
next year, online.  Why not?  I don't know why not. I can think of no
reason except the general dulling of critical faculties and
imagination when it comes to anything medical. The government is
partly to blame, and the voter is to blame for letting the government
handle it. and Priceline do better.


From: Steve Harris <>
Subject: Re: More Flu Vaccine Delays: Please BEG -- NOT!
Date: 19 Oct 2005 16:56:40 -0700
Message-ID: <>

(PeteCresswell) wrote:
> Per Mr-Natural-Health:
> >There is no need for any normal person to ever get an annual flu
> >vaccination.  The danger if there is any danger is from getting
> >pneumonia after coming down with the flu.
> I think it depends on your definition of "need" and how many paid sick
> days one has on their job.
> Before getting an annual flu shot, I racked up a minimum of two weeks
> sick time (sometimes three) from the flu *every* year - I didn't miss a
> year for about 11 years straight.
> Once I started getting an annual flu shot, I haven't missed a single day
> because of the flu for 14 years.  This year I lost about 10 days due to
> something the doc called a "flu-like" illness, but that was the first
> illness that was even close to the flu for me.
> --
> PeteCresswell


It might have been the actual flu. There's an urban myth that getting
your flu shot makes you immune to the flu. Actually, even if they get
the right vaccine to the strain that's going around, many people still
get the flu, but it's a much milder version, and gets attributed (like
yours) to some other mild respiratory virus (of which there are a great
many). I'm not saying it's not still worth doing to get the vaccine, as
it may be the difference between being ill a few days, or being

Like most people I get the shot every year and have no reaction. And
haven't been so ill I needed to go to bed for a day for many years.
However, last year was interesting, inasmuch as (like many people) I
was forced to forgo the flu shot by short supplies, and had to take the
nasal live virus instead. That was interesting. A couple days later,
for about 24 hours I had that horrid feeling you get when you're about
to come down with a virus. No chills or fever or even fatigue, but just
that odd "oh, boy, I'm coming down with something major" feeling.  But
it never happened. The feeling went away after a day, and that was it.

It was sort of like one of those scarry roller coasters where the
bottom drops out and for just a moment you think you're in big trouble.
But of course you aren't, and you're fine. If you have a normal immune
system and you enjoy being scared for fun, I recommend the nasal flu
vaccine. Me, I'm going to go back and try for the usual shot this year.
I've gotten used to needles, but not the reaction from IL-2.


BTW, I see the Amish have managed to get themselves some wild polio
this year, in the US. First time in long time. The only wild polio
outbreaks in last 20 years in the West, have been among religious
groups who don't vaccinate (in Netherlands and Canada). In Africa, the
major setback has been from a bunch of Muslim morons in Nigeria who
were told by the local clerics that the polio vaccine was an American
plot to sterilize them. The resulting polio outbreaks from this group
and their contacts have set the world polio eradication program back a
decade. Pizzaface is in her proper company.

From: Steve Harris <>
Subject: Re: More Flu Vaccine Delays: Please BEG -- NOT!
Date: 20 Oct 2005 12:51:37 -0700
Message-ID: <>

willow wrote:
> Flu vaccine is available in the UK now and my husband had his last week
> he was also booked to have the once only pneumonia vaccine but this was
> not available how soon should you have it after the flu jab for best
> protection?

Doesn't matter, as there's probably very little interaction between the
two. Just do it as soon as you can get it. Pneumonia vaccine is
ordinarily given to patients as they are getting out of the hospital
for pneumonia, so I suppose the only caveat is don't give it during an
active pneumonia case. But you won't be tempted to do that, anyway.


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