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WELLBEING: Healthcare | October 15, 2004



An E-Mail to Democratic Activists

I deal a LOT with seniors, and right now no issue is bigger for them than the shortage of flu vaccine (There's a SIX HOUR waiting line at Save-On and a lot of the doctors' offices just have none). And after this week, they can expect nothing. This life-and-death issue is prompting everyone to say, "This just isn't right!" I read in the Times this morning that problems were first reported back in August, even though nothing has been done till now (too little, too late). And how come the (GOP controlled) government let so many eggs be in too few baskets [vaccine manufacturers] in the first place?! Ten times as many people -- mostly seniors -- die every year from the flu as were killed on 9/11. Couple that with Bush's plan to suck trillions out of Social Security and his Medicare boondoggle for the drug companies (not to mention the premium increases) and a lot of otherwise conservative seniors are fightin' mad. Good for them! Let's point them in the right direction.


When I was at the local shopping center, there was a HUGE line -- hundreds and hundreds -- of seniors et al. (including some of the most pitiable people you'd ever want to see) waiting and waiting for flu shots at the drugstore (...[our old family friend] even stopped by to say one lady had been there overnight).

But there were several news vans. KNBC had covered them this morning; KABC was there this noon. SO, Doug being Doug, I spoke with the reporter...who was nice enough to take some time to speak with me. I said how these seniors were part of the greatest generation and accepted whatever came their way and didn't speak up enough for themselves; she agreed (she was very agreeable and had mentioned something like that in an earlier report, which I cited). I complimented her on their covering this story (that in fact was the first thing I had said to her, before waiting a long time for her to get free) and said that I wanted to speak on their behalf, because I worked with a lot of seniors and had an 87-year-old father at home who was too frail to wait in line (another point I had made initially). She listened intently (all this was off-camera, although I was prepared to go on camera, as I have twice before, in editorial replies).

I said that the #1 question the seniors I know are asking is, "How could this happen?!"  I mean, they feel like cattle in these long lines; it's so de-humanizing (she agreed). I said both the [presidential] candidates ignored the issue in the debate (Kerry's doing a bit better now); it was nuts to put all our eggs in just two baskets -- that one company, actually a California company, with the plant in England that got closed down; now we're dependent on France for all our vaccine -- ironic, given how we've bad-mouthed them about the war (she smiled and nodded in agreement). I pushed it a bit further, saying this is what we get when the healthcare system is treated more as a business than as a healthcare delivery system (that's as far as I figured I could go without getting too partisan).

I should've said, there is too little profit in the flu vaccine, so that's why there's not enough companies producing it; the government needs to do something -- they had warnings on August 25th that this problem was coming and yet did nothing to secure additional supplies, as they are scrambling to do now; and they should've done something a long time ago to make sure more companies were producing this vaccine: More than ten times as many people die every year from the flu as died in 9/11.

I'm trying to find her email on the KABC news site, to email her with this extra bit. We got along very well; she even asked me to critique her news report, which I did honestly.  She was very understanding and yet professional (we even talked about balancing those concerns as a journalist).

I also told her about Tamiflu, which she had heard of, and other medications that people can take, with a prescription, that will fight the flu if you take them immediately upon getting the first symptoms of the flu. I impressed upon her that she could do a big public service by letting people know about that. We'll see if her news director agrees. Too many lives at stake, the most vulnerable among us.

The bottom line: I think most of the news media tries to avoid bias but ends up being swayed to a degree one way or another by what they hear and see; they're something of a barometer of public opinion or at least current currents of thought. The Left and the Right can influence things, if we speak up, firmly and passionately, yet respectfully. It's all about human interest. That's what the audience wants to see; that's what the media will deliver.

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