October 11, 2005

Preparing for a Flu Outbreak II

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Projo editorial reports that the Senate has approved about 4 billion dollars “for vaccine development, among other things” in anticipation of a possible avian flu outbreak. The appropriation was attached as an amendment to this year’s defense appropriation. Senator Reed was one of the sponsors of the amendment.

Here is the breakdown of the spending...

Stockpiling of antivirals and necessary medical supplies $3,080,000,000
Global surveillance relating to avian flu $33,000,000
Increase the national investment in domestic vaccine infrastructure including development and research $125,000,000
Additional grants to state and local public health agencies for emergency preparedness, to increase funding for emergency preparedness centers, and to expand hospital surge capacity $600,000,000
Risk communication and outreach to providers, businesses, and to the American public $75,000,000

The numbers beg a few reasonable questions…

1. How much of the $3,080,000,000 is wasted if the outbreak doesn’t occur this year? I know we need to be ready with a response to what could be an immediate crisis, but…

2. Wouldn't we better off investing more in the “domestic vaccine infrastructure” so we can quickly produce lots of vaccines, once we know exactly what we are dealing with if an epidemic begins? Given that flu strains mutate, spending $3 billion for today, but only $125 million for tomorrow doesn’t seem entirely rational.

3. $600,000,000 of taxpayer money is returned to local communities for emergency preparedness. But where would that money have gone in the absence of the present crisis? Back to local communities? I doubt it. This item is an argument for reducing the federal tax burden so that people can afford the local services they need.

4. $33,000,000 for “Global surveillance relating to avain flu”; $38,000,000 for bike paths in Rhode Island alone. Do I have to explain the problem here?