A Swine Flu Epidemic This Fall Would Be Disastrous

The Medicine Man continues to be very concerned with the possibility of a full pandemic this fall as the H1N1 virus takes hold around the globe. CDC continues to pay close attention to the impact of swine flu on Americans and reports 44,000 cases so far along with 302 deaths.

 

Things could get much worse if the vaccine under development doesn’t work. Hundreds of thousands could die the next two years and 40 percent of our country’s workforce would be hit by this deadly flu without a vaccine says the CDC. Fortunately, expectations are that an effective vaccine will be developed. But unfortunately, the vaccine is projected to be unavailable until the end of September. That means it will be too late to immunize children before they return to school.

 

Even more troubling, is a study that indicates that one in six public health workers will not show up to work  if there is a pandemic. The study by John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said 16 percent of health department workers—doctors, nurses, clinical workers, administrators and clerical staff—would stay home.

 

Another study of almost 200 union health workers conducted by the AFL-CIO  showed that 42 percent would stay home with another 24 percent unsure. So that means that probably only a third of the work force would show during a pandemic!

Let’s hope that these fine people reflect on the consequences of their stand and do the right thing–show up to help the sick.

Finally, A First-Round Draft Pick!

Boy…was I frustrated watching the White House personnel staff get it wrong again and again when it came to picking this nation’s next surgeon general.Reportedly, the early list had the usual cast of characters, including two television medical reporters. Please! This is a very, very important post!

So I was startled and pleased when President Obama walked into the White House Rose Garden with his choice, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin. Speaking as a pro football fan who spends his time in the life sciences area, this definitely is a first-round draft pick. She will be a super star.

I’m sure because I personally know Dr. Bemjamin.  I had the priviledge of working with her when she served as a board member for the American Medical Association(AMA). She is kind, gracious and a visionary when it comes to health policy.  Her determination is legendary– three times she had has to rebuild the medical clinic she founded in Alabama after the facility was leveled by two huricanes and a fire.

She will be confirmed and will be a great surgeon general.

Show Me The Money! Take A Look At NIH Spending

The announcement that Dr. Francis S. Collins will be nominated by the Obama Administration to head the National Institutes of Health(NIH) reminds the Medicine Man why he is a neighbor of the facility. I am fond of saying I choose  to live and work within the shadows of NIH and the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) so that I do not miss any emerging trends that will impact life sciences areas.

These agencies’ actions and expenditures truly drive the process in their respective areas.  Matter of fact, without doubt, NIH  represents the most important source of research dollars in the world.  It will spend $4 billion on research in the next 14 months and award an estimated $37 billion in research grants. Transparency requires me to admit that I am a toady for NIH and FDA. Now, with that confession out there, I want to assure you folks, that your hard-earned dollars will be well spent.

By the way, Medicine Man predicts that Dr. Collins, a geneticist who led the government’s efforts to sequence the human genome, will sail through the legislation nomination process and will win confirmation.

Private Sector Innovation Will Help Battle the Next Pandemic

The Medicine Man has been quite concerned about this country’s ability to handle a pandemic following the terrible swine flu outbreak in Mexico this spring. I observed and listened very carefully to the Administration’s public policy moves and gave them passing grades. I do enjoy being able to go to their website, www.pandemicflu.gov, for updates.

 

However, if we are to minimize deaths, it will take innovation and outside-the-box thinking which I believe most often comes from the private—not public—sector.

 

So here is the tip of the hat to the pharmaceutical company, Roche, which produces TAMIFLU. They have come forward with their own informative website, www.pandemictoolkit.com, and a great advertising program that I saw in Fortune Magazine calling attention to a very unique idea—antiviral stockpiling for companies who want to protect their employees during a pandemic.

 

Companies can reserve an antiviral stockpile that is dedicated for its workers with Roche storing and maintaining the stockpile until needed. Then the customer buys the stockpile at wholesale acquisition cost at time of delivery. Roche rotates the antiviral medication so it never expires for you and the annual cost is $6.00 per employee. Minimum order size is 2500 packs.

 

What a wonderful idea for businesses to consider.

A Tap on the Back for Maryland’s Tax Credit Help for Biotech Startups

I was flabbergasted to read a newspaper article that pointed out at least 11 biotech startup company executives lined up days in advance to turn in their applications for tax credits. Kind state officials permitted them to stay inside near rest room facilities at the University of Maryland’s BioPark facility and it was noted the first person in line had an air mattress and sleeping bag!

 

The much-needed and very popular program stimulates investment in Maryland biotechnology startups by permitting investors to receive a tax credit of 50 percent of funds put into eligible companies. The credit cannot exceed $50,000 for individual investors and $250,000 for corporations and venture capital firms.

 

Unfortunately, Maryland only could budget $6 million for tax credits this year and the credits are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Kudos to Maryland and I hope other states see the benefit of helping biotech startups get off the ground.

A Salute to President Obama And Congress for Finally Giving FDA Control over Tobacco Products

It warms the heart of the Medicine Man to see Washington D.C. get something right!

 

Finally, they have given the Food and Drug Administration the necessary power to control and monitor tobacco products. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama allows the FDA to lower the amount of nicotine in tobacco products, block misleading labels such as “low tar” and “light,” and ban candy flavorings that appeal to kids.

 

As I have said before, normally I have a healthy mistrust for government regulation. However, having lost my wife to effects of smoking and seen many other victims of tobacco use, this is in the public interest. Hallelujah!

Just Remember: Your Dream Can Become Your Nightmare!

I n many years of advocating for the health care industry, I have learned that public officials often do not realize the consequences of changes they make in public policy. Quite often their dream legislation becomes a nightmare when implementing.

 The impact of “reforming” the nation’s health care system gets lost in the rush to make well-intended changes.

Case in point is the army physicians that will be needed to treat those 46 million uninsured. If you provide an affordable access program, the patients will come in droves.

 Unfortunately, we do not have the primary care physicians needed to treat them. And honestly, it will take a decade to fix the problem even if we make public policy changes.

 Currently, the shortage of primary care physicians is expected to reach 40,000 in 10 years. Public policy changes that eliminate educational debt and provide other incentives must pass Congress and then be implemented before we can solve the problem.