Amanda Ripley

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Swine Flu: Big Picture Time

1st Dec 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

OK, first of all, my apologies for the recent silence. I’ve been deep in the weeds on a story that is now finished—and will come out in January. It was an epic ride, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and am glad is over. But more on that later.

Now seems like a good time to revisit the slow-motion disaster of the year. To be sure, we still don’t know how the swine flu story ends. But we finally know the headline. Beyond all the noise about H1N1, the CDC, pigs and Mexico, this will go down as a story about outdated technology—the kind that we should have been embarrased about a long time ago.

As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today:

“We were fighting the 2009 H1N1 flu with vaccine technology from the 1950s. We could race to begin vaccine production, but there was nothing we could do if vaccine grew slowly in eggs. We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we still wouldn’t have as much control over the vaccine as if they were based in the U.S….We were working to squeeze every last bit of efficiency and dependability out of a safe but outdated technology. It was like an old car we had tuned up but still didn’t accelerate like we needed it to. And for us, the conclusion was clear: If we wanted to avoid these problems in the future, we needed to make some long-term investments in developing countermeasures that were just as safe and effective, but could be produced faster and more reliably.”

I hope this pandemic has peaked, and I hope there is no third wave. But regardless, this problem ain’t going away. To see what I mean (and make the magical connection between swine flu and terrorism—yes, there really is one! Not just pure fear mongering…!), check out this short H1N1 video from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.