Tom Price: The Doctor is not in
MICHAEL J. SMITH
Health Research and Policy Intern
November 2016- June 2017
Based in New York City Michael is completing a Master's of Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He previously has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology and has over five years of experience in scientific research and human health. Michael has co-authored a published paper in a national genetics journal and is co-authoring a manuscript to be published in 2017.
There may have been some hope for Tom Price - the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HSS), confirmed on February 10, 2017. After all, he is the first physician to lead the department since 1993. But, by the end of March, the University of Michigan educated doctor had all but confirmed his ineptitude and confirmed that he is unsuitable for the position.
Price hardly started off his tenure on the right foot - with a checkered history of trade deals and questionable involvement regarding pharmaceutical and medical shares trading, Price’s nomination resulted in a formal Senate hearing.
Price made investments in several biotech firms - raising questions about the ethics of his involvement and suspicion of insider trading - $100,000 of his money was invested in companies directly related to legislation he promoted and later, voted on.
After an embarrassing and failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Price stated he would be tasked with spearheading - Prince later indicated in an interview with CNN in mid-March that it should be up to states to regulate immunization and vaccination requirements.
In the interview, Price also commented on the role of states in the event of an outbreak, saying that it would be the role of state governments to determine whether immunizations are appropriate for a particular community. He also stated that states are the arbiters of public health, and the responsibility to react in the event of an outbreak, as well as decide whether certain immunization are required or not.
Maybe Price got confused when he referred to using vaccines in response to outbreaks - which is a moot point - outbreaks are prevented with proper vaccination campaigns. Allowing any uncertainty regarding immunization and vaccination will be to the detriment of the populus - but Price is simply falling in line with the status quo of the current administration - making rash and unformed decisions that will ultimately hurt or harm its citizens.
Perhaps Price is unaware that viruses and germs have the ability to transcend man-made geographic borders and that contagious substances cannot be confined by state borders.
Maybe Price forgot basic principles of epidemiology, like herd immunity - where resistance to a specific contagious diseases is achieved when enough people are immune to that contagion - achieved through vaccination. Maybe as an orthopedist, he didn’t know that. Maybe he is one of those “anti-vaxxers”.
Secretary Price may be unaware that measles outbreaks are occurring across the US - and some of the numbers of infected have not been seen for decades. States like Minnesota, Arizona and California are seeing a sharp rise in infections, and have even called for health officials to declare a state of emergency. This outbreak is especially concerning and vexing, as the disease does not exist within US borders and was eliminated in 2000. The CDC has reported over 1,200 cases of measles/mumps in the US since the new year - an astonishingly high number, since the disease is completely preventable by vaccine. The sharp rise of measles cases may well be a result of vocal anti-vaccination groups - those who believe this is a legitimate medical or scientific stance - a cohort Secretary Price has not addressed or rebutted.
Countries in Europe are seeing similar trends. Romania is seeing a surge in of measles cases - over 3,400 since February 2016. Seventeen children have died from measles - not surprisingly, none of them were vaccinated. Romania’s current vaccination coverage is around 86% - well below the estimated 95% coverage required for herd immunity. Romania has seen a steady decline in vaccinations in the last decade - led mainly a vocal and robust anti-vaccination movement in the country. As a result, they now have the highest measles infection rate in Europe.
Of the 32 countries in Europe that cases of measles since February 2016, 22 had vaccination coverage less than 95%.
Regardless of political affiliation or ideology, the topic of vaccination is straightforward - it is one of the few unequivocal medical success in human history - that is not up for debate. Diseases like polio, smallpox, measles and mumps are now distant memories in the U.S. - thanks to aggressive and widespread vaccination and immunization campaigns.
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) endorses universal immunizations for kids, with good reason - an estimated three million pediatric deaths per year are prevented worldwide because of them.
And their association with other adverse outcomes like autism, have been universally refuted among scientific and medical experts.
Public health policy and national safety cannot be left to up to states - communicable diseases that pose significant risks to the entire nation should not be left solely to the departments of health of each state. And, with more people flying ever before - nearly 3.5 billion air travelers in 2015, issues of national public health are really global health issues.
Secretary Price, unfortunately, is following suit with a wave of anti-vaccination sentiment - what UNICEF has described as “complacency toward the diseases and has unfortunately made vaccines, rather than the diseases, the focus of debate and discussion”.
With the current administration making concerted and significant efforts to cut funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by nearly 20%, who is to say that federal funding won’t also be cut for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? Who then is going to take responsibility for the control and prevention of diseases? Not Secretary Price.
States are already defunding necessary and essential clinical services like cancer screenings and access to abortion- and Secretary Price is complicit with these actions which reduce and exonerate the government’s responsibility for the health and safety of the people.
Secretary Price is in charge of a department that has a budget of more than one trillion dollars. A scary prospect, knowing that this is the same person that is comfortable revoking health coverage for nearly 30 million Americans and dismantling the ACA with no viable alternative.
Senator Michael Enzi said of Tom Price’s confirmation as Secretary, “who better than a doctor to head an organization that covers the wide variety of major health care programs?”.
The real answer? There are many better than Price, the most dangerous man in America.