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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Following the science – the political science

Either there is an ongoing public health emergency requiring extreme measures, or there isn’t. If it’s a crisis, why does a “large event vaccine verification emergency order” announced by the governor on Oct. 14 not go into effect until Nov. 15?

If only we could predict every emergency 30 days in advance. Or maybe it’s not really about the medical science.

Remember last June when the goal was a 70% vaccination rate for herd immunity? We reached the goal, and Gov. Jay Inslee took a victory lap celebrating his success as the proclaimer in chief. Then in August, new science on transmissibility raised the target range for herd immunity. Fair enough, medical science is about asking questions and learning from experience.

Political science is about holding on to power. Having not learned from past adverse reactions to mandates, Inslee issued one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the U.S. Washington hit the new goal of 80-90%, but there was no declaration of victory. The attempted bullying of public servants continued.

Attempted yet unsuccessful, given the number who have chosen to be forced out rather than having a vaccine forced in. State Patrol, social workers, health care workers, ferry crews and others all thinned out by heavy-handed implementation of a mandate driven more by political science than medical science. Regardless of optimistic news releases, residents have been warned by front-line WSDOT workers not to expect the same level of sanding and snowplowing on state highways this winter.

It’s hard to believe it’s medical science behind Inslee’s mandate when Department of Corrections officers are required to be vaccinated or face consequences, but not the inmates. A public health emergency does not differentiate which side of the bars somebody stands on.

When asked for the rationale, Inslee’s answer via email from Deputy Communications Director Mike Faulk was this:

“The governor does not have the same legal tools at his disposal to require the vaccine for the inmate population as he does for state employees … employees can choose to become vaccinated, get an exemption and an accommodation or work somewhere else. Incarcerated individuals are in our care/custody and do not have a choice here.”

Inmates can’t choose to leave prison, but the governor with his unchecked emergency power could impose quarantine, loss of work opportunities or loss of other privileges for refusing vaccination. And the vaccination rate among Department of Corrections inmates? Less than 70%, which even under last June’s standards represents a public health emergency. A mandate following medical science would coerce everyone equitably. The irony is not lost on DOC staff.

Political science is about money as well as power, so let’s talk about the money. Four years ago, Big Pharma was the villain in every narrative for undue influence on drug policy and pricing.

A typical Associated Press story from January 16, 2017, cited Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, as receiving “$515,089 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical manufacturers” during the course of her lengthy Senate career. And now the New York Times reports “The vaccine brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, nearly a quarter of (Pfizer’s) total revenue,” with a profit margin of roughly 20%.

By slow-walking production and distribution of its FDA-approved Comirnaty vaccine in the U.S., Pfizer’s profitability is safe. While not medically different from the FDA-approved version, Pfizer vaccines labeled under the EUA (emergency use authorization) are legally different in two important ways.

First, Pfizer avoids the 75 cents per dose excise tax required of FDA-licensed vaccines. This tax funds the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) established under the national Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. The VICP pays out on claims regardless of insurance status with a cash settlement of up to $250,000 for death or injury, and has a window to file of up to four years.

Why pay millions in corporate taxes if you have the political capital and the EUA shield to protect you?

Liability for adverse reactions to vaccines distributed under the EUA, including Moderna and J&J as well as Pfizer, is covered by the fully government funded Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP). Claims have to be filed within one year, and the CICP has a tighter limit on benefits, with a track record of denying claims at a higher rate. It allowed vaccines to be produced quickly to face last year’s emergency, but it is not to the long-term advantage of the public.

When the public health emergency is declared over and the EUA is no longer in effect, Big Pharma will have to start paying the excise tax.

Money and power. Political science predicts a continuing state of emergency until we start following the medical science.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at rulingpen@gmail.com.

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