Foreign Affairs Friday: Swine Flu

As the Northern Hemisphere flu season approaches, talk of swine-flu vaccines is increasing. The disease has hung around below the equator all summer, and so should be resurgent up here this winter. I think this is all overblown, and I'm not to eager to participate in a rushed, government-organized vaccination campaign. But the question of international competition for vaccines in the case of major problems with swine flu (or some other disease) is an interesting one to consider in this week's FAF segment.

According to the AP, "about 70 percent of the world's existing flu vaccines are made in Europe, and only a handful of countries are self-sufficient in vaccines." This becomes a problem when multiple countries decides to engage in mass vaccination, or when lots of people in multiple countries demand vaccines. Contracts that countries have with foreign vaccine makers may be broken by the host governments:

"This isn't rocket science," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "If there is severe disease, countries will want to hang onto the vaccine for their own citizens."

Experts say politicians would not be able to withstand the pressure.

"The consequences of shipping vaccine to another country when your own people don't have it would be devastating," added David Fedson, a retired vaccine industry executive.

In such a situation, each country would be looking out for itself. The US, for one, would not have enough vaccine to treat every citizen. At the same time, the World Health Organization and poor countries would be demanding that rich countries share vaccines with them. Their demands would likely go unheeded. The threat of "vaccine wars" is even raised in the linked article, but I'm not sure if this means actual war, or merely figurative war.

How vaccines are distributed within each country is another consideration. I suspect Congress would try to put themselves, their families, their nannies, and their mistresses atop the list. That's a subject for another post, however. As for me, I'll just retreat to my underground bunker in the woods.


  1. I've heard rumors that schools will try to mandate swine flu vaccines. Even if I thought it was a good idea for the government to tell parents what shots their kids need, which I don't, that idea would be problematic if there aren't enough vaccines. I don't think it will actually happen though I've said that before.

  2. At least with politicians the nanny often is the mistress, which creates a nice 'two birds, one stone' situation.