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October 28, 2004
Could be fake, but accurate
Filed in: Current Affairs, Politics

There's an email making the rounds that purports to describe the situation with the current flu vaccine shortage and it ends by putting the blame squareley on John Edwards.

Some conservative, as well as left leaning blogs, and article comments have all pointed to the Snopes debunking as the definitive word on this matter. Please go ahead and read the Snopes post as it contains the offending email and the Snopes analysis of it.

As it turns out, Snopes is just parroting the thin "left think" line on this issue and so, at least in this case, the debunker deserves debunking.

In its initial rebuttal, Snopes says: "Two major problems with this political screed..." are: [1)]

Chiron, the corporation mentioned in this piece as an example of a "British company" that has taken over the manufacture of flu vaccine from American companies supposedly driven out of business by liability lawsuits, is not a British company. It is an American company headquartered in Emeryville, California, which last year purchased British vaccine maker Powderject and a flu vaccine plant in Liverpool, England.

This is veiled Kool-aid speak for: Chiron is a multinational, that has manufacturing plants (those are large buildings in which hundreds or thousands of employees make millions or billions of dollars of drugs) in six different countries, has distribution facilities (more large buildings that store and supply millions or billions of dollars of drugs to their customers) in seven countries, research centers (you guessed it) in two countries, and field sales personnel in sixteen countries. This is just the kind of global operator that is in trouble in Kerry-land for outsourcing all those jobs overseas - of course, most of them were over there already if they were units that Chiron acquired - like the one in question: Chiron Vaccines. What does this business unit say of itself? From the Chiron vaccines web site: "Chiron Vaccines, the world's fifth-largest vaccines business, is headquartered in Oxford, United Kingdom..."

Last time we checked, saying that an operating unit of a multinational company "headquartered in Oxford, United Kingdom" is a "British" concern serves as a reasonable description.

Point [2] in the Snopes post begins with:

It is not the case that American manufacturers stopped producing flu vaccine when liability lawsuits made that market financially untenable for them, and UK and Canadian manufacturers (supposedly not subject to American liability laws) then picked up the business.

and continues with listing a series of technical problems that make it clear that being a vaccine manufacturer is fraught with business peril, and since it is ONLY a $6 billion dollar annual market - not really worth pursuing (My God, what have I been doing these last twenty years pursuing a market that's only $1.5 billion annually?)

All the business issues are summed up in the offending email succinctly as:

The major pharmaceutical companies in the US provided almost 90% of the nations flu vaccine at one time. They did this despite a very low profit margin for the product. Basically, they were doing us a favor.

Which leaves us pretty much in agreement on the technical issues of vaccine manufacture between the email and the Snopes post.

Lastly, for point [2], Snopes cites the VICP program as the final arbiter of making vaccine lawsuits untenable to Trial Lawyers, Inc. There are number of erudite entries on this subject that say it much better than I can. We learn, for example, that, though the VICP program was initiated in 1986, that "[b]y the end of last year [2003], over 190 thimerosal cases were pending, including at least 12 class actions. One class-action claim demanded $30 billion—that's five times the entire vaccine market itself! The tort tax on vaccines combined with government-imposed price controls makes vaccine manufacturing increasingly unprofitable and underlies the eight vaccine shortages we've seen since 2000.", that 1,700 families have received well over $1 billion in the VICP program itself (I don't know, but don't you think that $1 billion in what amounts to liability insurance built into the price of vaccine as a defense that isn't working against Trial Lawyers, Inc. is a little steep? Or that it might impact the profitability of producing vaccines?), that thimerosal junk science is still alive and well with Trial Lawyers, Inc., and that the trial lawyers blame outsourcing for the vaccine problem. Last week, Dick Cheney argued that liability is part of the issue in the vaccine shortage and rightly pointed out that the Kedwards ticket would thwart medical liability reform. Even the liberal Boston Globe (via, references liability issues in a recent article about the vaccine crisis.

(Brief aside: Snopes even suggests in their debunking post that new vaccine makers are staying out of the market because new technology being developed will supplant the current method for vaccine manufacture and make it much cheaper to do. Who does Snopes think is going to develop this new technology? Could it be companies for which the business market for vaccine manufacture is potentially lucrative enough to take the entrepreneurial risk to pursue the development of a new technology? Presumably, existing drug manufacturers - maybe even like Wyeth - among them? I'm sorry, but this "out of the market" assertion doesn't pass the business laugh test.)

As to the assertion in the email that John Edwards won a vaccine liability case in the 1980's, Snopes just changed their post on 10/27/04. The previous post ended with: "at this point it's not known if he ever litigated a flu vaccine case, or if so, what the outcome of such a trial was.", it now says pretty much the same thing, except to add that there are only seven cases in 24 years which doesn't constitute a "liability crisis." It also mentions that the report it cites in regard to the seven cases in 24 years was compiled by, you guessed it, Trial Lawyers, Inc. (Ok, Association of Trial Lawyers of America). I don't know, mentioning "standard vaccine" cases, sounds like a bit of legal speak, I smell a thimerosal rat don't you?

The left leaning Goldberg and Guthrie site expounds: "Mighty decent of the Bush campaign not to use this bombshell in the last two weeks of the campaign, don't you think?" (as if that fact that their presidential candidate is guilty of treason is insufficient - also see my earlier post). What, there's no Edwardian bombshell?

Ann Coulter in her "In Desperate Move, Kerry Adopts Puppy" column gave us one back in July about Edwards using junk science to win cerebral palsy cases:

In one of Edwards' silver-tongued arguments to the jury on behalf of a girl born with cerebral palsy, he claimed he was channeling the unborn baby girl, Jennifer Campbell, who was speaking to the jurors through him:

"She said at 3, 'I'm fine.' She said at 4, 'I'm having a little trouble, but I'm doing OK.' Five, she said, 'I'm having problems.' At 5:30, she said, 'I need out.'"

She's saying, "My lawyer needs a new Jaguar ... "

"She speaks to you through me and I have to tell you right now -- I didn't plan to talk about this -- right now I feel her. I feel her presence. She's inside me, and she's talking to you."

Well, tell her to pipe down, would you? I'm trying to hear the evidence in a malpractice lawsuit.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the death of Little Nell, one must have a heart of stone to read this without laughing. What is this guy, a tent-show preacher? An off-the-strip Las Vegas lounge psychic couldn't get away with this routine.

Somehow, this is not a good enough bombshell for the fleecing of our medical justice system by John Kerry's poodle?

When Kerry selected John Edwards for his running mate this article, subtitled "Trial Lawyers, Inc. run for president" was published. Copland easily makes the case that:

John Edwards = Trial Lawyers, Inc.

For election purposes, in terms of how executive government leadership will address (or not address) tort reform for the next four years, the Trial Lawyers, Inc. representative is John Edwards. He is the litigious everyman and would be one heartbeat away from the presidency. With him in this position, you can certainly be assured that, among many other things (like - will you have a doctor that is willing to practice medicine on your body?), we will continue to experience shortages in flu vaccines.

Did he participate in the case that the email alleges? Such information, one way or the other, is out of the reach of internet searching. Perhaps some intrepid Lexis-Nexis, or Westlaw researcher or someone with access to North Carolina hard copy trial records will find out.

In the meantime, I met this guy named Dan. He's a rather nice guy. He's doing some consulting about what to say when you have an allegation that doesn't have the support of, say, a transcript or something.

Of this email that is floating around, he says to say this: "It could be fake, but it is accurate."

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