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October 08, 2004

Flu Futures

Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a vial of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed.

Men like Max. The warrior Max. For the lack of a syringe, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland.

At the moment a parent can't get a flu shot for a kid in this town for love nor money. This will change come next week, but by then I expect the rush for shots will resemble the annual Christmas parent stampede at toy stores for the hot gift of the season.

One of the primary reasons why there has been a shortage of flu vaccine in the past few seasons is that from year to year the primary vaccine manufacturers have no way of predicting what the demand will be for their product. This leads to shortages during seasons characterized by a high demand for the vaccine--shortages that are worsened by the inevitable news coverage they generate, as the logical response of the public upon seeing the story is to try and get their flu shot before supplies completely run out.

This season would likely have followed a similar path, even before half the available supply, from British manufacturer Chiron, was declared contaminated. The other major manufacturer of vaccine, Aventis, is unable to make up the shortfall, as the vaccine must be grown over a period of time in chicken eggs.

While there are some efforts underway to shorten the time needed for manufacturing a batch of vaccine, no one is able to predict when or if such efforts will bear fruit. Why not, while we're waiting, try to dampen the market cycle that results in a vaccine shortage year after year?

If Chiron and Aventis need more information on what the demand for flu shots will be each year before deciding how many doses to manufacture, why not see them in advance?

Call them "flu futures." In exchange for a person's money in December or January, the vaccine manufacturers will guarantee them a shot in the upcoming flu season, one shipped directly to their clinic, with their name on it. Flu shots don't cost that much. $20 was the price I saw at the pharmacy the other day--not that I could buy one for that price, but an elderly person with a double sawbuck could step right up and get his shot in a minute or two. Surely the administrative costs associated with a pre-bought vaccine could be covered with another ten or so bucks.

I'd certainly be willing to pay $30 bucks a head in the spring for four shots come October, and I suspect so would thousands of other parents if only for the peace of mind it would bring. I've no idea if current law would allow the sale of flu futures, but if it does, the vaccine manufacturers are missing a trick by not offering them.


A hypothetical question, raised by this statement from the CEO of Chiron;

"Chiron deeply regrets that we will be unable to meet public health needs this season," Chief Executive Howard Pien said in a statement. "We take our responsibility to protect human health very seriously."

Suppose I'm a person in a high-risk group for the flu, and I've religiously gotten my flu shot every year at a clinic primarily supplied by Chiron (which is the case at my local clinic, though I am not in a high risk group.) Suppose further that my attempts to get a flu shot this year fail, I am infected by the flu, and die. Given that Chiron has not only admitted a responsibility to protect human health, but admitted that this year it failed to live up to that responsibility, can my family/estate sue them with a reasonable chance of success, or is the company protected by some version of the Good Samaritan law? Would such a case be possible even if Chiron hadn't made the statement of responsibility?

I'll concede the argument that suing flu manufacturers for their failure to produce flu vaccine is a recipe for driving them out of business, thus reducing the supply of vaccine even more. But then again, I'll be dead, so why should I care?

Posted by Bigwig at October 8, 2004 01:00 PM | TrackBack
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Honest question here: does the flu really kill that many people who bother seeking medical attention for it?

Posted by: Kevin at October 8, 2004 11:47 PM

The flu really does kill people, whether or not they seek medical attention for it. It's usually a statistical type thing. 2 examples I know of: old lady gets flu, gets dehydrated & weak, falls, breaks hip, has surgery & dies from a blood clot brought on by the surgery. Younger man gets flu, tries to "sweat it out" by lifting weights strenuously, gets rhabdomyolysis, then kidney failure, then dies of its complications. Both would appear to have died from something other than flu. However, their deaths would skew the death rate, which is how the Centers for Disease Control measure the results of a flu epidemic: how many "excess" (more than the average) deaths occur in any given time frame.

Posted by: Tresho at October 9, 2004 02:40 AM

Ah, so a by-product of lacking influenza vaccine is to turn into a Flu-warrior, struggling against the Flumungous, doubtlessly. You do have the right idea to pre-order a flu shot in advance, as it would create a stable market for vaccine makers and those in need, especially the very young and very old. Nngnat may not be as suseptible as Scotty M, but she could act as a pre-school carrier and cause him much respiratory distress if she gives him the flu, and how hard it is for 4 year olds to remember the four Fs of vector control: fingers, feces, fomites and flies. Hopefully Ngnat wastes no time on trivial and meaningless rote memorization such as that, unless mom and dad say so.

Posted by: Rich at October 9, 2004 02:47 PM
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