With worries about the H1N1 swine flu virus starting to subside, some in Congress —- led by two Georgia lawmakers —- are beginning to wonder whether it’s even worth it to develop a vaccine.
Republican U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Paul Broun of Athens —- both physicians —- say it might be a waste of taxpayer money to develop a vaccine, though experts predict the virus could re-emerge this winter.
Instead, they suggest, the money might be better used on defense spending.
“What we see in this particular flu outbreak is that I don’t think (vaccines) are needed,” Broun, a general practitioner, said on the House floor earlier this week.
“I don’t think we need to be appropriating $1.5 billion or $2 billion for the H1N1 flu,” he said. “We need to give those funds to our military personnel to keep them from dying in Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Gingrey, meanwhile, suggested vaccine money might be better spent buying more F-22 Raptor fighter jets that are made in Marietta. The Pentagon has said it doesn’t want or need any more of the jets, which each cost $140 million-plus, but Gingrey and others in Congress are nonetheless trying to keep the planes in production.
“We might be spending $2 billion on a vaccine that gets poured down the drain and is never used, and we could have purchased 15 or 20 F-22 Raptors,” said Gingrey, an obstetrician and gynecologist. “We have to prioritize our spending. We have to do these things in an appropriate manner.”
The Obama administration has asked Congress to allocate as much as $2 billion toward developing and producing an H1N1 vaccine and preparing for a wider pandemic.
Though federal officials and disease experts say H1N1 is shaping up to be less deadly than first thought, they caution that it’s wrong to be complacent about developing a vaccine.
Scientists say they expect the current swine flu to retreat from the hemisphere as summer approaches, but it could return this fall in a more virulent form.
As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was tracking more than 1,600 confirmed cases of H1N1 in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Georgia has four confirmed cases, according to the CDC.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, the acting CDC director, Dr. Richard Besser, said the agency and vaccine manufacturers are taking steps to be ready to produce a vaccine if and when it’s needed.
It can take four months or more to produce a vaccine, and the agency wants to be prepared if H1N1 returns with the next flu season, beginning in October.
“What we’re going to be doing is looking and saying, ‘OK, if this were to come back in a more severe form, what do we need to be ready to do in our communities, and what do we need to do at the federal level?’” Besser said. “We’re going to be ready so we’re not taken by surprise.”
While Gingrey and Broun question whether a vaccine is even necessary, others in Congress are asking whether a special appropriation is necessary to pay for a vaccine if and when it’s needed.
Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican who also is a doctor, contends that the Obama administration has already appropriated enough funds in the regular Department of Health and Human Services budget to pay for a vaccine.
Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican from Gainesville who is the ranking member on a House subcommittee on health affairs, agrees that there may be other money already available.
“We’re being told that there’s dollars out there that could be spent on this without appropriating new dollars,” said Todd Smith, Deal’s chief of staff in Washington.
Again, the previous article was published on May 9,2009 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
First of all, to suggest that the amount of money being spent in Afganistan and Iraq is not enough is ridiculous! I’m all for hunting down and killing terrorists and for equipping our military with the very best state of the art weaponry and armour. These people are heroes of the highest caliber and deserve the very best! But, at the same time, for these two congressmen to say more money should be appropriated from other areas of the budget, to buy bullets and fighter jets instead of using it to develop a swine flu vaccine is appalling! And, these Republican bozos are both doctors! ( Georgia’s other two congressmen, also Republicans, one of which is a doctor, believe there is already enough money allocated to adequately finance the development of a vaccine.) ( This is for you Shortbus ). ” The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or of the one ” ( Mr. Spock, Star Trek 3 The Wrath of Khan ) “, At what point, in the history of this great country did that change?.
Second, I tend to agree with Representatives Price and Deal that there are enough funds in the regular Department of Health and Human Services budget to pay for a vaccine. At the very least, we should find that out before we hit the panic button and decide without looking that there isn’t.
Republicans lost the Presidential election in 2008 and both houses of congress prior to that because the Republican party was ” out of touch ” with the American people. Clearly, these two representatives, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Paul Broun of Athens, are the poster children for that statement!