As swine flu spreads, experts are not yet able to say how serious the threat is. Predictions will become more reliable over the next few weeks as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) gather data in Mexico and other hot spots. Meanwhile the federal government is mobilizing plans to deal with a pandemic.
A key element of the government's response is the rapid manufacture of vaccine to protect against this particular new strain of virus: the goal is to have enough vaccine for everyone in the U.S. within six months of the start of a pandemic.
The current plan for vaccine manufacture is one inherited by the Obama administration from the previous administration. Among its weaknesses is a failure to disclose certain details of vaccine production. The current administration should apply its much-heralded principle of transparency to the vaccine program.
In a report published a little over a year ago, The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) criticized the government's plans for its vaccine program. The six-month period might be shortened if experts outside the government could easily comment on the details of the program. But these details are not readily available on the government's pandemic flu website. This lack of transparency is a weakness that could be corrected easily, quickly, and cheaply.
It's not too late now to reconsider POGO's recommendations on transparency. The recommendations included the posting of information about manufacturing capacity and plans to increase capacity through government subsidies or price guarantees. Information should also be posted about U.S. dependence on foreign sources of material for vaccine production, government contracts for vaccine production, intellectual property rights, and alternatives to current vaccines.
"If a flu pandemic has now begun, it may last for more than a year, so improvements in vaccine production, even if slow to occur, may benefit both the U.S. public and other countries. If making these changes through increased transparency does not help with the current outbreak, it is a long-term investment for the next time. This is a wake-up call not to wait," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director, POGO.