In an op-ed piece published in yesterday's Federal Times, POGO's Ned Feder refers to an unreleased government document dated September 30, 2005, made available by the New York Times, in which officials describe a potential outbreak of pandemic flu spreading from a village in Asia to the United States:
Overall, about 2 percent of Americans with influenza illness die...Hospitals are overwhelmed...People riot at some vaccination clinics as they are turned away or supplies run out...Trucks transporting vaccine are hijacked...Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government...Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed...The majority of people still have not been vaccinated when a second wave of influenza begins.
A worst-case scenario to be sure, but as survivors of the 1918 pandemic flu can attest, the threat of an outbreak should not be taken lightly. Yet under the government's current plan, a mass-produced flu vaccine is still years away. Even if a pandemic hit the U.S., it would take an additional six months to make the vaccine available to everyone.
As Dr. Feder points out, one simple way to improve the government's flu vaccine program is to make more information available to the public. For instance, if the government were to publicize its contracts with flu vaccine manufacturers, or disclose more information about its reliance on foreign sources of materials needed for vaccine production, program leaders could benefit from the input of health experts outside the government. Yet these and other essential documents are not posted anywhere online.
POGO is calling for greater transparency in the pandemic flu vaccine program, so that government and health officials have the opportunity to learn about problems and possible improvements to the program before it's too late.
For more information, check out our recent report on the government's pandemic flu vaccine program, or click on the video below.
-- Michael Smallberg