Editorial

Editorial by The Plain Talk Right now, there seem to be more questions than answers floating in the air (along with all those invisible microbes) about just how severe this flu season may be.

We�ve tried to answer some of those questions with our story on the front page today.

The United States can only expect to receive about half of the flu shots it was counting on for this season, after problems were found in a vaccine plant in England.

That has some people scratching their heads. Why are we relying on flu shots from an overseas firm? It�s a question that deserves exploring. Who knows? One of the answers to that question may mean a new opportunity for South Dakota.

Can the flu vaccine only be manufactured in a highly-urban setting boasting a large university and scientific community?

Or does South Dakota have what it takes, with our researchers at our state universities, and a unique blend of a strong work ethic and a wide range of natural resources?

According to a recent Associated Press report, flu experts say if the United States wants to avoid future shortages of flu vaccine it must take steps to draw drug companies back into the business of making the inoculations. In a bad year, the stakes could be higher than just saving people from fever, headaches and a runny nose. �What if you had 20 or 30 percent of your population not able to go to work or to school? It would affect the economy. It would affect, in a sense, our security,� said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic, who sits on a federal vaccine advisory board.

The basic problem is that �we�ve lost most of our domestic manufacturers� of flu vaccine, said Richard Webby at St. Jude Children�s Research Hospital in Memphis. �When you�re relying on two manufacturers ? and one goes down, you�re up the creek.�

Drug companies have pulled out of flu vaccine production because it�s not very profitable and it�s financially risky, health experts said.

One big problem is that demand for flu shots fluctuates from year to year as public interest waxes and wanes. Last season brought huge demand for a flu shot; the year before saw little interest, Poland said. But flu shots have to be made far in advance, so the manufacturers must rely on estimates and then they�re �out there naked in the marketplace,� said Schaffner.

If a flu shot isn�t used during the season, it must be discarded. So companies generally throw away millions of doses a year.

What�s more, making vaccines requires massive capital investment and involves the costs of complying with federal regulations, and the market is relatively small, he said.

So what can be done to draw more companies into making flu vaccines? One strategy would be to make demand higher and more reliable by getting more healthy adults to get flu shots regularly, Webby said. Other experts suggest having the government commit to buying a certain number of doses, buffering the uncertainty. The government could also require health insurance companies to cover flu shots as well as other vaccines for adults. A companion public program could provide flu shots for uninsured people, Webby suggested.

�It would create a huge new market.�

It could also create an economic shot in the arm for South Dakota, should the state find it feasible to get into the flu vaccine manufacturing business.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias, who probably won�t be rolling up his sleeve for a flu shot this year. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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