This morning on his weekly radio show, a caller asked Gov. Tim Pawlenty about the health care bill moving through Congress. Pawlenty blamed the federal government for the slow production of the flu vaccine.
“Right now, they can’t even reasonably and efficiently live up to their promises for the manufacturing and distribution of vaccine for the flu. Doesn’t that foreshadow problems with them try to take over even more of your health care decision making? If you can’t even manufacture and distribute flu vaccine in the manner that you promised, do you really think they should take over more of the system?”
Pawlenty is correct that the federal government did promise as many as 120 million doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine. But he’s incorrect in suggesting that the federal government is responsible for manufacturing the vaccine. That falls on private drug companies. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert for the University of Minnesota, said on MPR’s Midday on Thursday that no one should be blamed for the shortage because vaccine production is different from making prescription medicine.
“Making influenza vaccine is a lot like planting corn in Iowa in early May, comparable in time when we first found this virus. That farmer can go into the bar that night after he or she gets done planting and proclaim wide and loudly that they know what the yield is going to be in mid-October. But no one knows. It’s all about floods and droughts and hail and pests and all kinds of things. We still use a 1950s technology to make influenza vaccine. We have to introduce the virus into chicken eggs and they have to be embryonated chicken eggs. And then we wait to see how this virus would grow over weeks in that chicken egg and that’s what we then harvest and make the vaccine from.
Unfortunately, this virus did not grow well. It wasn’t until you got further down the pike that you saw ‘Wait a minute, we’re not getting the doses out of each egg that we thought we were going to get’ so we had to revise the numbers.
It’s no one’s fault. Not the manufacturers, the government. No one blew that. It speaks to a point we raised many times, we need better flu vaccine.”