- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

America's focus has shifted from mood-altering drugs, such as Prozac and Zoloft, to life-saving antibiotics, such as Cipro. Hysteria aside, an integral part of America's homeland defense arsenal must also include sufficient supplies of certain pharmaceuticals, such as Cipro, smallpox vaccines and the like. Unsurprisingly, there is little controversy regarding the government's involvement in this particular type of health care after all, we are in a war and several Americans have died and come in contact with anthrax. Still, there are cost considerations.
With economic stimulus packages, heightened defense needs, tax cuts, new security expenses and now added pharmaceutical costs, it seems there is no end to government expenditures and spending plans. And, with the government prepared to aid so many industries, including the airlines, affected by the September 11 attacks, some Americans are wondering if the private sector is ready to return a favor.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said recently that the government has earmarked an extra $1.5 billion to amass drugs and vaccines to counter smallpox, anthrax and other potential bio-terrorist threats. That amount includes $643 million to expand the national pharmaceutical supply and $509 million to speed up the development of a smallpox vaccine. Some funds will be used for much-needed training of health-care workers as well.
Surely, the pharmaceutical industry would benefit if it followed the lead of Bayer, the German manufacturer of Cipro, and gave the government a good deal on large-scale drug and vaccine purchases. To be sure, America's anthrax scare calls for emergency measures, and, according to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, member countries have a right to break with patents in times of national emergency. But it would be very difficult to make the case that America's anthrax crisis is more of an emergency than, say, Africa's raging AIDS epidemic. Besides, the administration would have no economic incentive to break with a patent, because, according to U.S. law, it would have to fully reimburse the holder of the patent in the event it produces or outsources the production of a patented drug, even in an emergency situation.
That is why the administration should generate as much free-market competition as possible in its purchase of medications. The Food and Drug Administration is approving generic penicillin and doxycycline to treat anthrax. Although these drugs have long been known to be effective against the disease, they were not officially listed as anti-anthrax medication. Also, Mr. Thompson said he is trying to secure enough anitibiotics, including Cipro, penicillin and doxycycline, to treat 12 million people for anthrax for 60 days six times current supplies. The White House is on the right track, by the way, taking bids from potential manufacturers of the small pox vaccination and trying to amass 300 million doses by late next year up from the 40 million goal announced in early October. So, while some of the panic in relation to the bio-terrorist threat is hardly productive, it is comforting to know that the White House appears to be countering present and potential threats effectively.

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