By C.J. Barbre

The line started forming at 6 a.m., 24 minutes before dawn on Friday, Nov. 5. By 10 a.m. there were approximately 500 people in line for the county flu clinic taking place at the Lindsay Community Center in City Park.

Composed mostly of the elderly and the very elderly, there were also the halt, the lame and the blind, quite literally, inching along so that one might have thought the Master was here, laying on hands and miraculously healing the sick.

But it was just a flu shot, a flu shot most would have happily paid for, had that been possible. "The doctors are all out. Porterville only had 90 shots and there were about 300 people who wanted one," said one woman from Lindsay, an early arrival who was taking no chances this time. She was one of the first 10 people in line. A little further down the line was little Sierra Williams in a pink snow suit. "We didn't want to do this, but we tried everywhere," said her great grandma, Margaret Ray.

It seemed overwhelming, but the folks giving out the shots said not to worry, there was more than enough for everybody, although they didn't say how many shots they had to give out.

But it seems like the question on everyone's mind should have been, how did we get to this state? Californians just voted to increase the massive state debt by $3 billion for the stem cell bond measure, to find cures for the incurable, and we can't even come up with enough flu shots - not that there's anything wrong with research. But what's with the drug companies!

The flu virus strikes as many as 56 million Americans each year, causing 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths according to the National Centers for Disease Control.

The Nov. 1 issue of Newsweek had as its cover story, "Flu Fever," subtitled "The vaccine crisis; Who should get the shots?" The article states, "The profit-conscious drug companies have fled the [flu vaccine] business in droves in recent years, leaving the health system ever more vulnerable to shortages and interruptions in supply." There was a chart provided showing that Viagra, Allegra, Zoloft and Lipitor generate higher revenue. This is whacked.

In fact there are only two suppliers licensed to produce the injections for the U.S. market, Chiron and Aventis Pasteur. According to the Nov. 1 issue of Time Magazine, Britain has five drug manufacturing companies, France has six and Germany has eight. Right now there are 24 million less doses of vaccine than were available last year. Chiron's supplies were contaminated, causing the withdrawal of 48 million doses, which prompted Newsweek to state, "Most of the nation was still a crazy quilt of surplus and scarcity." A black market for flu vaccine has emerged, where scalpers are peddling scarce doses at 10 times the usual price - or at the cost of Lipitor according to the chart which shows Lipitor generating 9.2 times more revenue. High cholesterol seems a tad less urgent than a flu vaccine, certainly for the vulnerable, including very young children, seniors and anyone with a chronic disease.

"One infections-disease specialist speculated that there could be a 25 percent surge in deaths this year owing to the shortage. Economists calculate that it could cost the economy as much as $20 billion in lost productivity, about double the amount for an average flu season," according to Time.

The magazine quoted a health economist as saying he would guarantee that shots would be available if they cost $70 instead of "our measly $7," being charged now.

That brings us full circle. People in what is continually reported as being one of the poorest counties in the nation are lining up for free shots because they were unable to obtain one for which they would have happily paid their doctors. What's wrong with this picture?

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