ACSH Dispatches Round-Up

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September 21, 2007: The Golden Egg

-- Quote to Note: "Flu is a formidable foe." --Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- The coming of autumn is signified by several noteworthy events: the leaves turn colors, there's a chill in the air, and millions of American get inoculated with the flu vaccine. This year, the CDC just announced, there will be 132 million doses available.

But ACSH staff members wonder what the largest number of people is who have ever gotten the vaccination in any given year. ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan said she does recognize the importance of having an ample supply, as we can all remember a few years ago when there was a shortage and people stood in line for hours and hours waiting for a flu shot. But even in that year, Dr. Whelan said she remembers almost 5 million doses still were discarded because of lack of demand by patients. What a waste.

So why all of the extra doses this year? Maybe they're accumulating excess stockpiles to avoid the lines and the panic, suggested ACSH's Dr. Gil Ross. The issue of distribution is difficult (Whelan said that in the past, on the Upper West Side of New York, many doctors she spoke with said they couldn't get any supply of vaccine on time for the expected demand).

The real problem that throwing out unused vaccine highlights, though, aside from the waste of resources and money, is that people who should be getting vaccinated are not. If all the people who meet the CDC recommendation for flu vaccination were to get the shot, there would be none left over. Furthermore, some of the 36,000 deaths from influenza per year could be avoided. But children -- the most important demographic to inoculate -- largely do not get their shots. ACSH staffers wonder if it's because of ill-founded anti-vaccine fervor. Now that there's a large supply to protect the public from influenza, we only hope that the CDC goes one step further and thoroughly encourages and informs the public so that they're all used.

-- ACSH staffers excitedly welcomed the latest news on Gardasil. The vaccine is now found to work even better than expected, protecting against even more viruses that cause cervical cancer than previously realized. ACSH staffers applauded the incredible innovation at Merck for developing a vaccine that now prevents up to 90% of cervical cancer. Dr. Whelan said it frustrates her, though, to think that New York City and State are suing Merck. Metaphorically speaking, they're killing the goose that lays the golden egg, Dr. Whelan said. The juxtaposition of these two news stories this week reinforced the fact that once something gets FDA approval, the drug manufacturer should not be held liable, she said. How can people not see that the liability threat is a disincentive for companies to innovate?

-- An op-ed in the New York Times read like a public health analysis about treating shyness in children with antidepressants, but to ACSH staffers' surprise, it was written by a professor of English. Dr. Ross said he finds it fascinating that antidepressants can be used for shyness. But more importantly, he said he believes that Prof. Lane completely ignores the link between the decline in antidepressant prescriptions and rise in suicides, a consequence of the intimidating black box warning label on the drugs.

September 20, 2007: New Mosaic of Drug Labels

-- Quote to Note: "The FDA's very close regulation of drug labeling doesn't necessarily pre-empt state juries from second-guessing when companies, and the FDA, decide to issue new safety warnings." --Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former deputy commissioner at the FDA, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

-- Today's big news in science stemmed from last-night's passage of the Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act in the House of Representatives. The final vote -- a whopping 405 to 7 -- may reflect urgency, as failure to pass would have resulted in pink slips for FDA drug reviewers. ACSH staffers said they are wary about the bill's impact -- the law will pre-empt the FDA's authority over placing warning labels on drugs (as partly argued by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former deputy commissioner at the FDA, in his opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on the bill).

ACSH's Dr. Gil Ross said that the key issue is whether or not courts are going to second-guess scientific decisions. Dr. Ross also expressed slight exasperation, saying he fears drug labels are now going to have all types of caveats on them in an effort to prevent getting sued.

-- Also, in today's New York Sun, ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan gets the last word on the new "personalized medicine" program at Mount Sinai Medical Center that will treat patients based on their genetic makeup.

September 19, 2007: Common Knowledge

-- Quote to Note: "We have to create a healthy food culture in the hospital." --Joanne Shearer, food and nutrition team leader at Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.

-- After news that students leave college less knowledgeable than when they entered, ACSH staffers shouldn't have been surprised that today's news followed a theme of "common" wisdom. The Wall Street Journal informed readers today that about eight million people die from cancer each year. The World Health Organization predicts that figure to rise by 50% to 12 million in 2030, making cancer the world's largest single killer disease.

ACSH staffers said they believe this rise can be attributed to three factors: competing causes of death are decreasing in numbers, people are living longer lives, and cigarettes are spreading. Besides that third reason, the increase in cancer deaths is not necessarily a bad thing, ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava said. Cancer will kill more people because it is a disease of older people, and people are living longer thanks to medical technology. A smaller proportion of people are dying of heart disease and other diseases, and the world's population as a whole will certainly increase by 2030.

-- Under the misleading headline "Hospital Food That Won't Make You Sick," the Wall Street Journal wrote about new standards for patients' meals. While ACSH staffers are not endorsing that patients eat "over-sweetened fruit from cans where it had been sitting for a year," we were amused and saddened when we heard that more than 100 hospitals around the country signed a pledge -- sponsored by an activist group -- to promise to serve more "organic, locally produced food, as well as food produced and distributed by environmentally friendly, sustainable methods such as using no pesticides or hormones." These hospitals are pandering to the "common wisdom," Dr. Kava said, even though eating organic does not translate into healthfulness.

Corrie Driebusch is an ACSH research intern. Receive these dispatches each workday in your e-mail by becoming an ACSH donor -- donate here, send a tax-deductible donation to the Broadway address at the bottom of this site, or call (212-362-7044 x225) or e-mail (McTeague[at] with questions.