Governor Tom Vilsack is firing back at U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Thompson was in Iowa yesterday to dispel — in Thompson’s words — the “misinformation and scare tactics” of those who’ve criticized President Bush for not doing enough to prevent a shortage of flu vaccine. “It is not as dire as some people are trying to say. It is not a crisis,” Thompson says. He says since the problem surfaced, another 11 million doses have been found, and there are another 40 million doses of meds used to treat or help fend off the flu. Thompson says his agency has increased its spending on flu meds by 700 percent compared to the spending level in the final year of the Clinton Administration. And he says for the past three years he and other officials have been asking Congress for grant money that would encourage other companies to make flu vaccine.Thompson says it may require an infusion of taxpayer dollars to get companies to switch from making the flu vaccine by a method devised around the turn of the 20th century and start making flu vaccine with a more modern method. Governor Vilsack says Thompson and the Bush Administration knew the industry was on the ropes, though, and haven’t done enough. “Nothing was done to try to expand the number of suppliers so that we would reduce the risk that if there was a disruption in one facility, that we wouldn’t be short,” he says. Vilsack says the flu is a personal issue with him. Vilsack says his sister got the flu. She was a healthy woman in her 40s, but the flu got in her heart, destroyed it and she died after rejecting a heart transplant. “The flu’s a matter of life and death, so I treat it very seriously,” Vilsack says. Thompson says politicians are scaring the elderly into waiting in long lines to get a flu shot — and waiting in line may be more hazardous to their health than not getting the flu shot.
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