Monday, November 28, 2005

Avian Flu and Government Role

This is another example of "when we don't need the government, it's everywhere; when we do, it's nowhere". Ujang has raised the issue of Indonesia's avian flu problem some time ago. He was wondering what the government had done to tackle the problems. We learn from news that the death toll number keeps increasing. But there seems to be no clear policy on this.

In The Becker-Posner Blog, Posner argues that the spreading avian flu pandemic has much to do with government's planning failure. He even relates the failure to the same mistake with regards to handling the hurricane Katrina:
[W]e are seeing basically a repetition of the planning failures that resulted in the Hurricane Katrina debacle. The history of flu pandemics should have indicated the necessity for measures to assure an adequate response to any new pandemic, but until an unprecedented number of birds had been infected and human beings were dying from the disease, very little was done.
On its economics and how the government can help, Posner says (my emphasis added):

A specific problem with respect to preventing flu pandemics is the difficult economics of flu vaccines. Because of the frequent mutations of the virus, a vaccine may be effective for only one season, in which event the manufacturer must recover his entire investment in the vaccine in just a few months. The expected cost of the vaccine to the manufacturer is increased by his legal liability (a form of products liability) for injuries due to the side effects of the vaccine. If a large population is vaccinated, a percentage of the population, amounting to a very large number of people, will in the normal course experience illness in the months following the vaccination. Many of them will be tempted to sue, and uncertainty about the causation of an illness may enable a number of persons to recover damages who would have become ill anyway. This problem can be solved in a variety of ways: by requiring proof of negligence rather than imposing strict liability for side effects of vaccination; by increasing the burden of proving causation in vaccination suits; or by the government's undertaking to indemnify the producers for damages attributed to the vaccine. Even if such steps were taken, there would be a strong case for the government's financing vaccine development and procuring large quantities of vaccines for distribution as needed.

His co-blogger, Gary Becker agrees (again, my emphasis):
[T]he world's population would be willing to pay a lot for an effective vaccine against avian flu, but companies are given weak incentives to spend a lot on developing such vaccines. That is the challenge posed to effective public policy, and I agree with Posner that so far the US and other governments have failed to meet the challenge.
Bottom line: this is the case where we cannot rely on the private sectors. The incentives for them are just not enough. The government should take the lead. Sadly, as usual, governments are busy doing things they're not suppose to do. (Why is it for example, the government officials' salary more important than avian flu?)

1 comment:

  1. i recently got an (avian) flu-vaccine and trust me : never believe in any kind of virus injected in your veins. it won't work. you'll feel sick and if you're sick, you'll fell even more sicker then before.

    my fair guess is the same condition would apply for poulrty kinds as well.