Democracy Now! co-host and columnist for the New York Daily News.
Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez discusses the massive swine flu vaccination plan at New York City elementary schools. "The city is depending on public school nurses to spearhead its massive swine flu vaccination plan at elementary schools this fall," writes Gonzalez. "But the nurses are balking at some aspects of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, including whether they should be the ones giving the nasal spray and shots to students." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, before we begin, you’ve had some interesting columns in the New York Daily News on kids going back to school and swine flu.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, in New York City, obviously, and in New York state, many parts around the country, school begins next week. And this week, Mayor Bloomberg and all of his top health officials announced a massive program to basically provide free vaccines to all of the 1.1 million New York City public school students. It’s an enormous — an enormous undertaking, although it’s voluntary. Parents must give written permission for it. But it will entail an enormous amount of effort by the city. And elementary school children will be offered the vaccines in the public schools.
Of course, this is a response to the expected surge in H1N1 virus that’s expected this fall. And it comes after only about a week and a half after the President’s White House Council on Science and Technology had a grim report, a scenario that conceivably as many as 90,000 Americans could die this fall as a result of the H1N1 virus spreading rapidly throughout the American population.
But the interesting thing, that there’s a big debate going on in the federal government about this that they’re not admitting. The council, the White House council, which are basically independent scientific experts, came out with their report on August 7th. It was not released until early last week. And, in fact, on August 7th, when the public did not know the report had already been provided to the President and his top health advisers, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Tom Frieden, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control, held a press conference in Washington basically saying that there will be a policy of really no school closures, as far as the federal government is concerned, except in extreme cases of the spread of H1N1, and basically trying to comfort the public as much as possible and not present a grim picture.
And I think what happened is there appears to have been a huge debate within the Obama administration as to how this report was going to be issued. When it was finally issued, Kathleen Sebelius was nowhere to be seen, President Obama was golfing on his vacation. And the next day, Tom Frieden panned the report. So there appears to be a debate in the administration about how seriously to take the spread of swine flu, with the independent scientists saying, “Hey, we may have a real major problem,” and the administration saying, “It’s really a mild flu. There’s nothing to worry about. We just have to take strong precautions.”
AMY GOODMAN: And if parents say no to their kids being vaccinated?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, then they won’t be vaccinated, obviously. But President Obama himself is recommending vaccinations for all Americans.
But obviously the problem is the vaccine is being rushed in to use. The clinical trials are still going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Who makes it? Do you know?
JUAN GONZALEZ: It’s a variety of firms that are making it. But the problem is, it won’t be ready, even the first batches, until mid-October. And the President’s council says that the flu is expected to spread much more rapidly than that before that, as early as the first weeks of September in the North. It’s already beginning to surge again in the South, in Georgia and other places, where public schools started much earlier. And they’re already seeing a surge in cases in the South.