A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Using H1N1 to Sway Health Care Debate


The American Future Fund, a conservative advocacy group, has released a new ad that uses the H1N1 vaccine as the crux of its argument against health care overhaul legislation.

The ad asks: "If the government can’t run a flu program, can we trust it to run America’s entire health care system?" But the question assumes a false premise. The health care proposals that are nearing full chamber votes are not empowering the government to run an entire health care system, as we explained earlier today.

Additionally, the AFF muddles a number of facts about the H1N1 vaccination plan.

The ad says that "in July, the government said we’d have 120 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine by October, but only 27 million doses were available." That’s true, but it misses some intermediate estimates. On July 29, the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Robin Robinson, did project that there would be 120 million doses of H1N1 vaccine ready in October. But Robinson dialed down the projection from 120 million to 45 million doses during a teleconference with reporters on Aug. 14. As of Nov. 4, the number of doses allocated had reached 32 million.

The changing predictions are partly a result of the vaccine failing to grow as quickly as expected from seeds made using chicken embryos, which is the most common method of producing flu vaccine. It’s worth noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises getting a flu shot "before December," since influenza "usually peaks in January or February most years, and disease can occur as late as May."

The ad also implies that terrorist suspects have been treated better then the elderly, women and children. It says that while many have waited in lines for shots, "ironically the government planned to give flu shots to detainees at Guantanamo." But that’s misleading. A Guantanamo spokesperson said on Nov. 2 that detainees would be offered vaccinations "on a voluntary basis" — which conservative politicians interpreted as giving them favored status. But a Pentagon spokesman has since clarified to CNN that the vaccine would only be offered to prisoners after all military personnel and civilians had been vaccinated. "We haven’t even taken care of the first lot or the second lot or the third lot before we’d even consider vaccinating anybody beyond that, including detainees," spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "There’s no guarantee that everyone will get it. It depends on how many quantities are shipped to Guantanamo."

Note: We originally wrote that "the ad also infers," a word choice that caught the attention of one of our readers – but didn’t catch several sets of FactCheck.org eyes late on a Friday afternoon, when this item was published. As our reader correctly noted, the ad would "imply" something; attentive readers "infer."