NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

WHY THE U.S. ISN'T PREPARED FOR BIRD FLU

October 21, 2005

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that an avian flu pandemic could kill between 89,000 and 207,000 Americans. There is no publicly available vaccine for the new strain.

Now that the threat is upon us, the administration says it plans to bolster vaccine production in the United States and purchase huge quantities of antiviral drugs. But Sally C. Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, asks why we were not ready since the United States once had a large vaccine industry.

Consider:

  • In 1957, 26 companies supplied the market for standard children's vaccines -- but now only four companies do.
  • Three decades ago, at least 10 U.S. firms manufactured vaccines to treat seasonal flu; by the late 1990s only five remained and in 2004, the entire U.S. flu vaccine market depended on just two companies.

Developing new and better flu vaccines is well within the reach of science. So why don't U.S. drug companies, which dominate the global medicine market, make vaccines? Pipes explains:

  • Vaccines are subject to excessively strict screening by the Food and Drug Administration, which vets drugs for safety, making the cost of researching and developing new vaccines needlessly expensive.
  • Vaccines are very expensive to produce; using one older method of making flu vaccine, it costs about $300 million to build a factory and takes almost five years to get it completed and inspected.
  • Out-of-control lawsuits have scared companies away from developing and producing vaccines; in the 1970s, more than 800 lawsuits, adding up to more than $20 million, were filed in the United States against vaccine makers.

In short, says Pipes, litigation, regulation and price controls have strangled our ability to prevent deadly diseases, among them avian flu. It does not have to be this way, she says.

Source: Sally C. Pipes, "Why the U.S. Isn't Prepared for Bird Flu," Investor's Business Daily, October 18, 2005.

 

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