Several months ago I read a story in the Morrison County Record about pandemic preparedness, the article began with Sandra Driscoll, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Morrison County stating the following: “A pandemic flu virus will eventually circumvent the globe causing disruption of daily living, illness and death. Families, businesses and whole communities will be affected. No segment of life as people know it will be immune.” Hmmm…

Shortly thereafter I saw a news broadcast, I think it was by a local news station, the story discussed first responders who don’t get vaccinated. The broadcast speculated as to the reason groups of first responders bypass vaccinations and concluded that first responders were probably just concerned about the safety of others, fearing there would be too few shots too go around. Hmmm…

And now the more recent Nascar shot squabble where congressional aides were advised to get vaccinations against a list of communicable diseases “before traveling to look at the preparations being made by local first responders for hypothetical scenarios at the tracks in Talladega, Ala., and Concord, N.C.,” as reported by FOXNews. Hmmm…

In a nutshell, Homeland Security said that getting vaccinated to come to a major event like Nascar was “standard procedure.” Since it obviously isn’t “standard procedure”  for domestic travelers Rep. Robin Hayes took offense to Homeland’s recommendation telling FOXNews, “We thought it was silly that you needed to get a vaccination to come to Concord to go to the NASCAR races….Hayes said the vaccination orders left a biased impression that somehow NASCAR fans or Southerners are more likely to spread disease.”

The real issue isn’t about folks needing shots to visit the south; it’s that a number of first responders are refusing to be vaccinated. It’s about the federal government using all those congressional staffers as an example in hopes of encouraging greater participation among first responders. Then first responders can be used to encourage greater participation among the general public. But the plan backfired when a number of Southerner’s and Nascar fans interpreted Homeland Securities recommendation as an insult, as if Southerner’s were being addressed like diseased poodles from a third world country. Maybe Homeland Security should have pre empted the confusion by explaining in advance that the recommendation was good old fashioned mass marketing.

So, why are some first responders refusing vaccinations? The central issues appears to stem from safety concerns triggered when Congress passed a law protecting vaccine manufacturers in 2005. According to an NPR interview with Senator Ted Kennedy about the lawsuit shield, Kennedy said that “the final language in the bill provides “a basic blank check for the industry, not only on pandemic flu, but just about any other kind of, quote, epidemic that anyone can think of.” Hmmm…

The report went on to say, “under the law, manufacturers would receive the protection from lawsuits when the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares a particular disease as an “epidemic.” Already HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has used the word epidemic in relation to AIDS, obesity, diabetes and chronic diseases in general, potentially broadening the legal protections to many drugs now in existence or under development.” Hmmm…

Following the 2005 vaccine shield, the U.S. Senate  came back in May, 2006  and passed an amendment that would provide compensation to first responders should they be harmed by the pandemic vaccination.  The amendment was sponsored by Senators Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy, their May 3rd, 2006 press release had this to say,  “If we do not learn our lessons from the past, we will most certainly repeat them,” said Biden, referring to the voluntary smallpox vaccination program several years back, in which very low participation was attributed in part to the lack of a compensation program should vaccine-related problems arise….We cannot ask the folks on the front lines – those who are charged with our protection – to put themselves in harm’s way without the certainty that we will take care of them should they be injured. Our firefighters, police officers, and health care professionals deserve nothing less.”  Hmmm…so what did he say the American public deserves?

I don’t know if the Biden amendment was ever passed into law or not. The answer seems immaterial because the Biden bill only applies to first responders and the flu vaccine. The American public still has no protection even in cases of  gross negligence or gross recklessness.

Perhaps Sandra Driscoll misspoke she said,  “No segment of life as people know it will be immune,” because it sounds like  sound like the pharmacutical industry has that end all sewed up. I will leave you with a few statistics compiled by Public Citizen before the liability sheild was made law:

Some 4,000 people fell ill after taking the swine flu vaccine in 1976; 500 contracted a paralyzing nerve disorder and more than 30 people died. Some military personnel and first responders who took the smallpox vaccine in 2003 suffered heart attacks, increased risk of heart inflammation and neurological disorders.

I think I’ll look for revisions to the law before I roll up my sleeve for another shot in the arm…or in the fin.

Brooke Trout

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