Alex Blaze

Public health means working together

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 28, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: France, hepatitis B, inoculation, Maine, pandemic flu, paris, preparedness, republican, susan collins, swine flu, vaccination

This afternoon I went to a health center in downtown Paris. I got the full gamut of STD screenings a month ago (negative for everything, thank you very much) [I got schooled, check out the comments.] and was told that I should get a hepatitis B inoculation, so I went today to get first dose of it. I also mentioned that it's been a while since my last tetanus booster (11 years), and the doctor gave me that too. I'll be returning in June and November for the second and third round of the hep B inoculation.

All of this was for free. When I got the STD screening, I didn't even have to provide a name. The funny thing is, I'm here on a tourist visa and I can get more free health care than I can in America as a citizen.

In America a few months ago, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), trying to make a name for herself as a fiscal conservative, cut hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic flu funding from the stimulus bill. One would think that, when the point of the bill is to increase deficit spending, appropriating money to fight disease would be one of the least controversial aspects of the bill.

But then one would have to forget that "fiscal conservative" means increasing spending on the wealthy and the military while cutting funds from programs that actually help people.

She even goes so far as to brag about cutting the money:

As The Nation's John Nichols points out, not only did Collins kill off the $900 million pandemic preparedness proposal--a budgetary execution called for by that well-regarded public health expert Karl Rove--Collins even brags on her Senate website about blocking passage of the pandemic preparedness initiative.

But Collins said she was concerned about pandemic preparedness. So, one might assume, she's been using her bully pulpit as the ranking member on the Homeland Security committee to rally support for pandemic preparedness, right? Surely a Google News search of "Susan Collins" + pandemic will turn up lots of articles and press releases, right?

For the folks back home, she sent out a press release touting money she secured for Maine for homeland security efforts, including--yup, you guessed it--"to deal with looming threats such as a pandemic disease."

And that's it. Nothing else.

I understand that people don't like paying taxes. I get that. But if we're going to cut back on spending, shouldn't we cut from things that don't help people, like unnecessary wars, instead of things that do help people, like preparing for epidemics?

The problem with preparing for epidemics is that there is no Randian alternative. There's no way to say that we're in on it for ourselves if we're at all serious about the topic. Epidemics spread, and they generally don't discriminate. They force us to work together and show people that the idea that we're all individuals who can support ourselves completely (and if we don't we're just not working hard enough) is farce, and always has been.

Which is why this flu epidemic has the leader of Collins's party and noted public health expert talking scared:

Rush attacked the UN for issuing a warning for a worldwide flu pandemic, claiming that it is "by design" to get people to respond to government orders. The media fall right in line with this stuff, Rush said, amplifying the nature of the crisis. Rush -- in his capacity as public health expert -- added that "the flu's a common thing."

Their philosophy is bankrupt, and we have to point that out everyday. But today I was able to get free inoculations because I'm in a country that realizes that inoculations aren't just about protecting an individual, they're about protecting a population from a disease that could get out of control. Because when one person can't get a disease, that means that lots of others aren't going to get it from her, and others won't get it from those others, and so on.

Can you imagine the US government systematically giving out free inoculations, even to one of the most despised groups of people who live there: illegal immigrants? Maybe we're embarking on a new era in America, but I'm not holding my breath for that one.

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Dear Alex, although I am happy that all your tests came back negative, I think you should have omitted the results from what you wrote. Those of us who are lucky enough to be negative have to down play the information out of deference to those who are positive and are placed in an awkward position by having to remain silent rather than jump in with "Oh I know how you felt. I really sweated it out until I heard the word 'negative'" I learned this long ago and had to apologize to someone while explaining that I just hadn't thought it through to the point where I realized that eventhough i was talking about my own robust health, I was unwittingly challenging others present to either match my news or tacitly state the obvious opposite. Ever since then, not only have I never asked anyone about his health, but I have learned to absolutely refrain from discussing my own, no matter how uneventful it may be or seem to be. To some, this may seem overly polite, but my positive friends have enough aggravation in their lives. Why would I not offer them this simple respite from yet another socially uncomfortable moment.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 29, 2009 3:03 AM

Tony, in the late eighties it seemed that everyone I knew had sero-converted or was sick and dying and there were no viable treatments. Those were desperate days and for my friends and a couple of ex’s it was always a question of whether AZT or some opportunistic infection would get them first.

I’d had a couple of decades of constant, unsafe sex under my belt and was a bit more than just terrified. I figuratively took the tonsure and stayed away from Griffith Park and the bars and became extremely irrational about taking The Test.

Instead I had my t-cells counted once a month. They were always good but once after a bad flu they were about 1300. While paying my copay my doctor patted me on the back and said he wished I could donate some of them. I left, opening the door to the waiting room and was met by a pair of eyes full of some combination of desperate pleading and resignation on the face of a young man who’d heard the doctors comments. I had to literally hold back tears as I shouldered my way out of that office.

I've tried to follow your advice from that day onward.

Good point, and I've updated. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the first thing about that subject.

Although I imagine that the story's pretty telling anyway, since they usually don't sign you up to get a hep b inoculation if you tested positive for something, do they?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 29, 2009 2:28 AM
"But then one would have to forget that "fiscal conservative" means increasing spending on the wealthy and the military while cutting funds from programs that actually help people.

That’s the first time I’ve heard you admit that.

That's a very accurate description of Obama and the Democrats as well as of the Republicans. Two rancid peas in a rotting pod. Both allocate trillions for the rich, are totally opposed to socialized medicine and are for escalating the oil wars against Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan while menacing Iran and trying to wreck its development with an embargo.

That’s the first time I’ve heard you admit that.

Really? I think I've said that a few times on this site before. Perhaps it was only in the comments.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Collins want the flu preparedness cut from the stimulus bill because it wouldn't really stimulate the economy? Instead, she wanted it in the regular budget where health care costs are usually placed.

From what I've read, it's not that she was against pandemic flu funding, just that she thought it was in the wrong legislation. (Because you have to admit, emergency preparedness - while vitally necessary to our country - isn't exactly "stimulating" to the economy which was the point of the stimulus money. Instead of money going into the pockets of Americans so we'll spend, spend, spend!, that $900m would have gone into the pockets of insurance companies, pharmaceutical corps, and vaccine makers.)

Well, as John Maynard Keynes would say, when the economy is doing poorly, the government should pay people to dig holes and fill them up again.

The problem with the stimulus bill was that it didn't spend enough money, and the point was to spend more money. The Collins/Nelson duo cut a lot out of the bill not because the items weren't stimulating, but because they thought it was spending too much money.

Much of this money, you're right, would have gone to pharmaceuticals, but it also would have gone into hospital upgrades, creating flu vaccine stockpiles in TX and CA, and increasing readiness infrastructure. All that requires truck drivers, secretaries, nurses, plastics, building managers, etc., to run.