Sunday, August 31, 2003

The unremarked scandal: Bush and the Smallpox program

Opinion - "Final results of a smallpox vaccine study by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University show America's preparedness for a smallpox outbreak may be greater than initially thought.

The research shows 90 percent of those vaccinated 25 to 75 years ago maintain a substantial level of immunity. In addition, repeated vaccinations do not result in a higher level of disease protection."

This is very good news. Even those of us who were not immunized (Canadians & Europeans age <47) will benefit from a protective environment of resistant people. This data would change the Bush administrations smallpox prevention program -- if that program had not already sunk without a trace ... or much remark.

Of all the different ploys the Bush administration played prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Smallpox ploy was the most vile -- or the most incompetent. I'm not sure which explanation is worse.

Given what was "known" at that time about smallpox susceptibility, and given what the Bush administration leaked and implied about the probability of bioterrorism, there was ample justification for a national program of immunization. The outlines of that program, framed by the CDC based on the Bush administration's risk estimates, matched the grim rhetoric of the administration.

Except the administration didn't follow through on that rhetoric. Immunization rates were low, but the President said nothing. Physicians expressed very serious concerns about disability benefits in the event of vaccine injury, life insurance coverage for vaccine fatalities, etc. etc. None of these concerns were truly addressed.

So what was really going on? Did the Bush administration not believe their own estimates? In that case, they bear a terrible responsibility for the vaccine complications that did occur. Did they believe their innuendoes? Then they were terribly incompent - because they didn't correct a failing program.

A scandal either way. But one that has passed without remark. Instead the Bush administration must deal with the "16 words" scandal. That one is quite trivial, and it must be a relief for Rove to deal only with that.

No comments: