May 13, 2012

THEY’RE TRYING TO IMPOSE A NARRATIVE THAT DOESN’T WORK: In this story by Kirk Johnson: Cutbacks Hurt a State’s Response to Whooping Cough. See, here’s the problem:

Whooping cough, or pertussis, a highly infectious respiratory disease once considered doomed by science, has struck Washington State this spring with a severity that health officials say could surpass the toll of any year since the 1940s, before a vaccine went into wide use.
Although no deaths have been reported so far this year, the state has declared an epidemic and public health officials say the numbers are staggering: 1,284 cases through early May, the most in at least three decades and 10 times last year’s total at this time, 128.

Now here’s the narrative-advancing bit:

The response to the epidemic has been hampered by the recession, which has left state and local health departments on the front lines of defense weakened by years of sustained budget cuts.

Only here’s what’s really going on:

If the signs are there, he said — especially a persistent, deep cough and indication of contact with a confirmed victim — doctors should simply treat patients with antibiotics. The pertussis test can cost up to $400 and delay treatment by days. About 14.6 percent of Skagit County residents have no health insurance, according to a state study conducted last year, up from 11.6 percent in 2008.

“There has been half a million dollars spent on testing in this county,” Dr. Leibrand said late last week. “Do you know how much vaccination you can buy for half a million dollars?” And testing, he added, benefits only the epidemiologists, not the patients. “It’s an outrageous way to spend your health care dollar.”

So the real problem isn’t that there isn’t money, it’s that the money is being spent for the benefit of the “public health community” rather than for, you know, the public health of the community.

Which is usually what’s going on when people talk about the damage done by “budget cuts.” And I’ve warned about this, and about the New York Times’ heavy-handed narrative management, before.

UPDATE: Reader Ron Jones comments:

Two points: first, as the article eventually gets around to, the cause of this outbreak is vaccine refusal, not vaccine expense or shortage.

Second, that draconian measure of treating rather than testing is standard procedure in an outbreak no matter how much money is in the system. It’s common sense, not an austerity measure.

Indeed. So is Johnson spinning, or was he spun? Either way, he looks kind of bad. And here’s something I wrote on the vaccine refusal business a while back.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Mike Lee emails:

My wife is a pediatric RN in Seattle.

You are right. This is totally about vaccine refusal, caused by nutjob parents both left and right.

Jenny McCarthy autism believers, apocalyptic home schoolers, both are at fault.

We each had to get pertussis vaccinated because my wife’s so exposed.

Nobody’s died yet because the current horrible health care system jumps right on it.

In a perfect legalistic world, we could file a class action lawsuit against these idiots.

Yes, the quacks do far more damage than the “evil” drug companies, and risk far fewer consequences. And the quacks are not immune from the profit motive, either.

Comments are closed.
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