If the theme of the 21st century economy is 'Where there's risk there's brass' then health scares offer a fine opportunity for profiteering. Forgive my scepticism in failing to react with delight to the recent announcement from Alan Johnson that the government will be buying sufficient stocks of anti-viral Tamiflu to treat 50% of the population, in spite of the fact that last time we faced a similar crisis only 25% of the population were infected.
[really nice cartoon removed due to copyright conflict: hope to resolve this soon!]
What is the cost of such ardent prophylaxis? The 14.6m doses already purchased on our behalf have cost us £200m., so we will soon be sending another sum of the same size to Roche. Doubts have been raised about whether the drug is effective and the proposed solution is--to also buy another similar drug, Relenza, just in case. Back in 1999 then Health Secretary Frank Dobson respected the opinion of Nice that this drug was so ineffective as to be a waste of money. Threats of legal action from Glaxo soon reversed this decision.
I can't help wondering how much of Johnson's enthusiasm is related to his support for big pharma rather than a realistic assessment of how much Tamiflu we are likely to need. His scientific back-up is not of the most credible variety, coming from chief medical officer Liam Donaldson, he who told us all we were risking blindness by daring to watch the eclipse.
According to its manufacturer, Tamiflu lasts only four years, so this could represent a fairly constant stream of cash for Roche so long as our fears are kept topped up by stories of dead swans, a new marker that winter is finally here. There are big profits in our fears. Perhaps we should all get more of a grip on ourselves. This may be a more likely way to reduce our taxes than another round of civil service job cuts.