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Kerry Ad Says Flu Vaccine Shortage Is Typical of Bush's Policy Blunders

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page A06

Sen. John F. Kerry jumped on the flu-vaccine shortage yesterday with a new television ad blaming the situation on President Bush.

In what may be the first presidential campaign commercial dealing with the flu, the Democratic nominee is trying to portray the vaccine squeeze as typical of the president's mishandling of health care. Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said that Kerry had opposed a legislative remedy and that his "incredible hypocrisy just demonstrates again his willingness to say whatever will benefit him politically."

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In the ad, a narrator says: "Three years ago, medical experts warned George Bush that a dangerous shortage loomed. Instead of fixing the problem, production of the vaccine was sent to a factory overseas -- the vaccines were contaminated. Now Bush wants Canada to help, even though his own policies make it illegal for us to import medicine from Canada.

"Seniors and children wait. Not enough vaccines for pregnant women. A George Bush mess."

The spot, which features headlines from USA Today, The Washington Post, the Orlando Sentinel and the New York Times, is typical of the "crash ads" the campaign has been making lately to capitalize on breaking news.

In 2001, the General Accounting Office cautioned that ensuring an adequate flu vaccine supply had become more difficult because of a dwindling number of manufacturers and that problems at one of the two or three remaining vaccine makers could "significantly impact overall vaccine availability." The crisis was triggered 12 days ago when a British agency halted shipments from a Liverpool-based vaccine maker because of bacterial contamination.

Bush aides noted that Kerry had opposed legislation last year that would have immunized vaccine makers from punitive damages in lawsuits involving FDA-approved products. Most Democrats objected to the bill, which never came to a Senate vote, because it would cap non-economic damages at $250,000 in all liability cases. Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said the senator supported a vaccine compensation law for injured patients that passed in the 1990s, adding: "The American people want flu shots, not more excuses why George W. Bush dropped the ball." The Bush camp, however, says spending on flu preparedness has grown from $39 million to $283 million during the president's term.

Federal officials have said it is unlikely that Canada can supply sufficient doses of vaccine quickly enough, but that problem has nothing to do with Bush's refusal to allow imports of cheaper Canadian drugs, as the ad suggests.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, released an ad Friday calling Kerry "the most liberal man in the Senate" and "the most liberal person ever to run for president."

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