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EDITORIAL: Tow-the-line flu

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Late Friday night, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring that the H1N1 virus - the swine flu - is a "national emergency." While 120 million doses were originally promised by mid-October, the government now hopes to get 50 million by mid-November. Academics are telling us the vaccines will be delivered too late to help. So with the world seemingly falling apart, the Obama administration announced last week that the United States is donating 10 percent of our vaccine supply to other nations.

"The president clearly has made it clear that his priority is safety and security of the American people," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the Senate Homeland Security Committee last Wednesday when announcing the donation policy. Either the president really believes we are in a "national emergency" and saving American lives is his "priority" or he doesn't. If he does, then all of our vaccinations should go to help Americans. If he doesn't, then he should ramp down the scare-mongering rhetoric.

In late August, Mr. Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology warned that 90,000 people could die from the swine flu in the United States. The situation was so dire that the council advised the president to speed vaccine production and name a senior member of the White House staff to take responsibility of the coming pandemic. But what the president's council did was simply take the worst-case scenario for deaths from the normal seasonal flu in Mexico. That is simply not appropriate. The American medical system - at least until government completely messes it up - is vastly superior. The death rate from complications arising from the flu is much lower in the United States.

The news media are playing up the fact that 1,000 may have died so far this fall from the swine flu. These numbers should be presented in context. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu infects 28 million to 56 million Americans each year. Of these, 100,000 are hospitalized and about 36,000 die. A thousand deaths are horrible, but no more than they are in any other year.

This muddle reminds that the federal bureaucracy is neither competent nor straightforward enough to run a vaccination program. That's a lesson Americans should keep in mind as the government works to take over the whole health care system.