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Opinion Piece, Editorial Address Outbreak Of H7N9 In China

The following is a summary of an opinion piece and an editorial addressing the outbreak of a new strain of bird flu — H7N9 — in China.

  • Tyler Cowen, New York Times: “The outbreak raises renewed questions about how to prepare for possible risks, should the strain become more easily communicable or should other deadly variations arise,” Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, writes. “Our current health care policies are not optimal for dealing with pandemics,” he continues, adding, “The central problem is that these policies neglect what economists call ‘public goods’: items and services that benefit many people and can’t easily be withheld from those who don’t pay for them directly.” He states, “One obvious step forward would be to exempt biomedical research from cuts of the current federal budget sequestration,” adding, “The government could also take another, more unusual step: it could promise to pay lucrative prices for the patents on drugs and vaccines that prove useful in dealing with pandemics” (5/4).
  • Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist: “The worry now is that as H7N9 sporadically infects people, it might be acquiring the mutations it needs to go on the rampage,” MacKenzie, a correspondent for the magazine, writes. “That’s a good reason — alongside saving lives — to prevent human infections. But how?” she asks, noting “killing and vaccinating poultry and preventing human infections won’t stop a pandemic strain emerging. It will only slow it down.” She continues, “When that happens, we will need vaccine,” adding, “There are several promising new technologies able to churn out vast quantities of pandemic vaccine quickly. But [research and development (R&D)] funding has been limited.” She writes, “Maybe if we start now, and slow the virus down, we will have enough time. Chances are low, but if we don’t even try they are zero” (5/6).