- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman warned last spring that creating “alarms” and “dire outcomes” from the flu fueled the demand for flu shots last season.

Glen Nowak, who was at that time the CDC’s spokesman for the National Immunization Program, said during a presentation to the American Medical Association in April that “heightened concern, anxiety and worry” drove demand for flu shots last year. According to Mr. Nowak’s presentation documents, he said the flu arrives “in cities and communities with significant media outlets,” including newspapers and TV stations.

Mr. Nowak, now the CDC’s media coordinator, said he was analyzing factors that increased demand during the 2003-04 flu season, not coaching scare tactics to increase demand for flu vaccine.In his speech, Mr. Nowak said the “recipe” that drives demand for flu vaccines includes “framing of the flu season in terms that motivate behavior (e.g. ‘very severe,’ ‘more severe than last or past years,’ ‘deadly’).”

“People wanted to know what was learned in the 2003-2004 vaccination season. It is a look backward as to how demand was created,” he said, adding that shots are an important part of preventing flu. CDC officials have expressed concern at low rates of vaccination among some risk groups.

However, a vaccine safety advocate said the CDC’s rhetoric does not match the risk from flu.

“We have known for several years that the CDC is employing behaviorists and communications specialists to instill fear and anxiety in the public about infectious diseases in order to promote mass vaccination. But the rhetoric about flu risks has been especially over the top,” said Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, which does not take money from vaccine manufacturers.

“The public is not being well served by federal health officials who use deceptive propaganda techniques to panic people into standing in lines to get flu vaccine rather than tell them the real truth about flu risks as well as vaccine risks.”

An unexpected shortfall in vaccines this year — combined with strong demand for the vaccines — has left scores of the elderly waiting in line for flu vaccinations. British health authorities Oct. 5 shut down Chiron Corp.’s flu vaccine plant in Liverpool, barring nearly 50 million doses from the U.S. market. Press reports cite concern over contamination.

Seniors and families with young children are lining up, some overnight, to get vaccinations. The Associated Press reported a 79-year-old woman in Lafayette, Calif., who stood in line Thursday for more than five hours waiting for a shot collapsed when she left the line to seek shade and hit her head. She died from the injuries.

When discussing flu shots, the CDC’s director has said that boosting vaccine manufacturers’ profits would improve reliable vaccine supplies.

“There have been many evaluations of why our vaccine manufacturing capability is becoming increasingly limited,” CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said at a Tuesday press conference. “One of the major reasons is that the manufacturers are leaving the market. Obviously, if there was a profit to be made, they would be in the market.”

At the same conference, Aventis Pasteur, one flu vaccine manufacturer, said: “Demand for influenza vaccine drives increased supply. Steady, predictable annual increases in demand will ensure increased capacity to meet immunization goals.”

The CDC last flu season targeted for vaccinations people over 65 and people with certain chronic medical conditions. This year, the CDC also recommended that children under age 2 get vaccinated. Mr. Nowak’s presentation last April also discussed people in age groups 18 to 49.

Twice he cited the threat to children, noting that “visible, tangible examples of the seriousness of the illness (e.g., pictures of children)” was part of what increased demand for flu shots.

The CDC received reports of 152 flu deaths among children during the 2003-04 flu season. It says it is not clear whether that number is high or low.

“The answer to this question is not known,” the CDC said. “Because the number of influenza deaths in children has not been tracked before, it’s not possible to compare the number of deaths in children this year with previous years.”

Each year, the center tries to anticipate the strain of flu that will affect the United States and provides a seed virus to manufacturers.

Last year, the vaccine did not match the flu virus. In January, the CDC released a fact sheet stating that in an initial study, “the 2003-2004 influenza vaccine was not effective or had a very low effectiveness against ‘influenzalike illness’” in one group of health care workers. The CDC, however, said that study does not prove that the vaccine was totally ineffective.

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