Flu Season: Missing the Mark

The Gilmer Free Press

Do you know someone who had a flu shot this year and still got the flu? It’s happening a lot this year. Have you wondered how this could happen? Let us share some of the background.

For well over fifty years, health officials in Washington convene each year in February to project what type of influenza will occur perhaps 9 months later. They then select a vaccine to combat the flu strain(s) they’ve identified.


Unfortunately, 20% of the time they get it wrong. This year they really got it wrong.

For the current flu season, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) projects that 200,000 people could be hospitalized and 50,000 people may die because of the ineffectiveness of their vaccine. Think about that: More Americans will die this year from the flu than were killed in combat in the Vietnam War.

America deserves better.

First, the process to select a vaccine is an archaic procedure that needs immediate reform. It is too much a “game of chance” rather than reflecting the science that is available. Once a vaccine is chosen, it then takes up to 6 months to bring it to market. We’ll discuss the problems with that later in this column.

Flu strains are complex and constantly evolving. Almost immediately after the particular strains were identified last year, the deadliest strain began mutating, or “drifting,” and by September it was 50% different than it was in February.

Despite the CDC goal of an effectiveness rate of 60% or more, the current vaccine will only be 23% effective this season. That means that only one in four getting the vaccine has been effectively protected; this is unacceptable.

Therefore, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation held a hearing on Feb. 4 of this year to discuss what went wrong and how to better address the issue going forward.

At the hearing, the CDC claimed they only knew their vaccine would be ineffective in September of last year – too late to make any new vaccines. However, it became clear that in May the CDC found that the “drift” of the dominant strain was becoming a concern. Instead of acting then, our public health officials made excuses for their inaction.

In the weeks following September the CDC still did not send out a health advisory warning doctors and nurses of the risks and proper treatments. Meanwhile, new flu vaccines were being developed for South America’s flu season – the kind of vaccine which could have saved lives in the United States had it been brought to the market.

What could the CDC have done instead of make excuses? In 2009, Americans were given the option of receiving an additional targeted vaccine for the swine flu virus not treated by that year’s standard flu vaccine. As a result, only 20 people died from this unexpected and deadly strain.

Additionally, the CDC could have used public service announcements advising people to get an antiviral drug within 48 hours after developing flu symptoms. Or for adults, a high-dose vaccine could have been administered. All of these would have lessened the harsh, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths the American public is experiencing.  

As for the issue of a prolonged production schedule, shouldn’t our medical community be able to use the science available today and shorten the time it takes to bring a vaccine to market? Almost 90% of America’s vaccines are still produced using a slow, egg-based process that is more than 80 years old.

The National Institutes of Health should prioritize new types of flu vaccines that are more reliable and effective. There has been research into new technologies such as recombinant DNA techniques and cell-based manufacturing, which would allow faster production of the flu vaccine and would eliminate the guessing game.

In the testimony given on February 04, a panelist acknowledged that a modified vaccine could have been made in 12 weeks, but in quantities insufficient for the entire population. Apparently the decision was made that if 150 million modified vaccines could not be available, then none would be made! They did not even make enough for the most vulnerable population, our elderly and young, and which would have saved lives.

This pandemic raises questions about CDC’s public health strategy and whether they manage taxpayer dollars effectively. For example, between 2000 and 2014, the CDC budget nearly doubled from $3.5 billion to $6.8 billion. Instead of funding a more effective vaccine-selection process, shortening production timelines, or developing additives like adjuvants to existing vaccines, they spent taxpayer dollars on teenage dating sites, sexual violence, firearm related injuries, and youth violence. These latter issues all have value, but the CDC itself may be “drifting” from its core mission of disease control. 

Americans need to be vaccinated, but they need peace of mind that their public health agencies are doing all that they can to help protect them. We need to ensure that funding is going towards development and research of medicines that can save lives and that in times of crisis those medicines are reaching those in need.

The American people deserve better from their public health officials, and unfortunately the current flu vaccine program is not serving them.

David B. McKinley has represented West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District since 2011. He is vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigation. Mary G. McKinley, his wife, is a critical care nurse with more than 30 years experience.  A graduate of West Virginia University, she is a partner at the firm Critical Connections and is a clinical educator at Ohio Valley Medical Center.

Ron Paul: How Many More Wars?

The Gilmer Free Press

Last week President Obama sent Congress legislation to authorize him to use force against ISIS “and associated persons and forces” anywhere in the world for the next three years. This is a blank check for the president to start as many new wars as he wishes, and it appears Congress will go along with this dangerous and costly scheme.

Already the military budget for next year is equal to all but the very peak spending levels during the Vietnam war and the Reagan military build-up, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives. Does anyone want to guess how much will be added to military spending as a result of this new war authorization?

The U.S. has already spent nearly two billion dollars fighting ISIS since this summer, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. A new worldwide war on ISIS will likely just serve as a recruiting tool for jihadists. We learned last week that our bombing has led to 20,000 new foreign fighters signing up to join ISIS. How many more will decide to join each time a new U.S. bomb falls on a village or a wedding party?

The media makes a big deal about the so-called limitations on the president’s ability to use combat troops in this legislation, but in reality there is nothing that would add specific limits. The prohibition on troops for “enduring” or “offensive” ground combat operations is vague enough to be meaningless. Who gets to determine what “enduring” means? And how difficult is it to claim that any ground operation is “defensive” by saying it is meant to “defend” the U.S.? Even the three year limit is just propaganda: who believes a renewal would not be all but automatic if the president comes back to Congress with the U.S. embroiled in numerous new wars?

If this new request is not bad enough, the president has announced that he would be sending 600 troops into Ukraine next month, supposedly to help train that country’s military. Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the U.S. military. The ceasefire agreement signed last week includes a demand that all foreign military forces leave Ukraine. I think that is a good idea and will go a long way to reduce the tensions. But why does Obama think that restriction does not apply to us?

Last week also saw the Senate confirm Ashton Carter as the new Secretary of Defense by an overwhelming majority. Carter comes to the Pentagon straight from the military industrial complex, and he has already announced his support for sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Senator John McCain’s strong praise for Carter is not a good sign that the new secretary will advise caution before undertaking new U.S. interventions.

As we continue to teeter on the verge of economic catastrophe, Washington’s interventionists in both parties show no signs of slowing. The additional tens of billions or more that these new wars will cost will not only further undermine our economy, but will actually make us less safe. Can anyone point to a single success that the interventionists have had over the last 25 years?

As I have said, this militarism will end one way or the other. Either enough Americans will wake up and demand an end to Washington’s foreign adventurism, or we will go broke and be unable to spend another fiat dollar on maintaining the global U.S. empire.

OpEd™: Know The Truth

The Gilmer Free Press

Thursday, February 10, there was a piece from the Associated Press entitled, “Foes of Proposed Pipeline Lose Fight.“ I am glad to see some coverage of the fight going on, but it would be nice to have some good news. This article seems to be intentionally discouraging.

I take issue with this piece for several reasons. For one, the headline printed in the print paper and the one in the online paper are different. In print, the words “in General Assembly” were left out. The headline is in large, bold letters, and looks dire. These things give the impression that the pipeline fight is basically over. It could be seen as a means of discouraging opposition to the pipeline. It certainly doesn’t inspire action to make the situation look so bleak. It must make those in favor of pipelines feel better, but how about those opposed?

This article is misleading for another reason. It speaks of events in Richmond, VA, but if a person was swayed by the loud headline, he/she might not look further to notice this did not take place here, but in VA. On top of that, it mentions that the group that lost was highly organized. Another punch to the gut.

This “fight” was over a proposed change to the law that would give property owners the right to keep gas companies off their land for testing and surveying, similar to how it stands in WV. Yet, nothing was said about that. I think it is important to remind landowners that WV code §61-3B-3 stands behind their right to not have their land trespassed upon, encroached upon, or disturbed. The gas companies want us to believe that we have no other choice than to do their bidding, but until the courts rule otherwise, we still have the law behind us in that regard.

Further on, the article says, “Dominion defeated a bill earlier this session involving a well organized group of citizens…who expressed concerns…about Dominion’s ability to affect their property values.” Did anyone really think about this? How is it that a company could defeat a bill in our legislature? How, indeed. We have certainly come a long way from our beginnings.

Being opposed to the pipeline, or fracking, is not popular in this region. The extractive industries have had a hold on our state for generations. It is so pervasive that most people can’t imagine an economy built around anything else. If you’ve been watching the legislative session lately, you might notice our legislators don’t seem to have a whole lot of imagination, either. It seems like a giant auction. I guess when you have hundreds of lobbyists whose only job it is to design the laws to ensure the highest profit margin, and companies with a lot of money to throw behind it, it does make one feel very small.

But momentum against the pipeline is gaining. There are many groups opposed to the pipeline, especially in the southern counties. Even here in the north of WV, groups are cropping up all over. Landowners are concerned about losing their family farms to the pipeline, and the health of their families to fracking, and everyday citizens are concerned about losing their water. These are not unreasonable concerns. The pipeline will carry fracked gas from our region out of state. Fracking has been shown responsible for water and air contamination, road destruction, and earthquakes (from injection wells). The practice is so bad that it was recently recognized by New York state to be so unsafe, such a risk to public health, that it was banned in December. New York chose to put the public health before profit, and we should, too.

Until we get the money out of politics, the will of the people will be nearly impossible to realize. We would do well to remember how this country was founded by ancestors that were sick and tired of being ruled with an iron fist. We wanted the will of the People to be done, not the will of the king, or the corporation.  Someday, soon, I hope, we may return to that state. In the meantime, the fight will be long and hard, but West Virginia is my home and she is worth fighting for. If you would like to know how to connect with others in your area to preserve your rights and protect our state, you can email   or find Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance on Facebook.

~~  Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance ~~

The Gilmer Free Press

Foes of Proposed Gas Pipeline Lose Fight in General Assembly

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline across the Blue Ridge Mountains lost a legislative battle Monday.

Environmentalists and property owners in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline were seeking repeal of a 2004 state law that allows interstate natural gas companies to do testing and surveying on private property without the consent of the owner.

Richmond-based Dominion Resources is joining other utilities seeking to build the $5 billion, 550-mile pipeline that would bring gas to the coast from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

State Senator Emmett Hanger’s bill to repeal the 2004 law died for lack of a motion in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Hanger, an Augusta County Republican, said he supports energy development but believes the current law tramples private property rights.

Pipeline supporters said legislation would be unwise because of pending litigation over the issue.

The committee heard from four landowners who are fighting Dominion’s efforts to survey their property.

Carlos Arostegui, a Buckingham County farmer, said the company wants to dispatch surveyors through the middle of his largest pasture.

Dominion refuses to even discuss the issue with him, Arostegui said, because it can rely on the 2004 law as a “legal crutch.“

“Make them talk to us,“ he pleaded. “Make them persuade us, not ram it down our throats.“

Dominion said it is simply following the current law.

The 2004 law was sponsored by Senator Frank Wagner, a Virginia Beach Republican. This year Wagner is sponsoring a measure, now close to passage, that would weaken state regulatory oversight of Dominion’s electric rates.
Dominion successfully defeated a bill earlier this session involving a well-organized group of citizens from Prince William County who have expressed concerns similar to those of pipeline opponents about Dominion’s ability to affect their property values.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, was aimed at limiting Dominion’s ability to put heavy-duty power lines around the town of Haymarket for a proposed data center.

AP writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.

How to Fix Title I

As Congress debates re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it can revise Title I and improve outcomes for poor children, writes Robert Hanna of the Center for American Progress.

Currently, Title I includes four different formula grants that determine how much districts receive from the federal government.

Each of its present formulas suffers one or more weaknesses.

First, the formulas don’t focus on concentration of poverty, but rather consider both concentration of poverty and absolute numbers of students from poor families.

This inadequately serves students in concentrated poverty and benefits large districts over smaller ones.

Second, current formulas also benefit states with more children per household, whether or not these children are served in schools.

Third, current formulas inadequately account for difference in education costs across districts or states, using state expenditures as a metric.

States with more property wealth seem to face higher education costs just because they spend more per student.

The article proposes a new formula that focuses only on concentrated poverty, measures states’ fiscal effort (how much is spent on education, given resources) in total rather than per-capita dollars, and better accounts for differences in cost of living across districts.

Senator Lamar Alexander’s recent proposal for a new framework for the ESEA would leave Title I formulas intact or potentially eliminate them entirely.

Click H E R E for CAP-State Projections Data Under Proposed Formula Worksheet

The Gilmer Free Press

ESEA Reauthorization:
How ESEA Title I, Part A, Funding Can Better Serve the Most Disadvantaged Students

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently released his recommendations for a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, and the Senate has begun discussions on his proposals. Congress first passed ESEA in 1965, and it has gone through several re-authorizations since then. The latest is known as No Child Left Behind, which provides additional resources to states and districts to improve their education systems and holds schools accountable for their academic progress.

One section of ESEA—Title I, Part A—is the single largest K-12 investment that the federal government makes. It is the most powerful lever available for driving improvements in educational outcomes for poor children. Currently, Title I includes four different formula grants that determine how much districts receive from the federal government. Since ESEA’s passage, several researchers have pointed out that the current formulas fail to achieve the aim of Title I: to alleviate the effects of growing up in impoverished homes and neighborhoods. Moreover, without federal intervention, these students would likely receive insufficient education dollars, given their state’s current resources or simply their funding priorities.

Senator Alexander’s proposal does not address these issues. But there is a way to address them. Several years ago, Raegen Miller and Cynthia Brown developed a new approach to Title I funding that does a better job at meeting the original purpose of Title I and does so through one, simpler formula.

In brief, the current formulas exacerbate rather than ameliorate interstate funding disparities, and Miller and Brown’s new Title I formula fixes several of these issues. States that currently invest more in education get more in federal funds even though state investments in education are primarily a function of the wealth of the state. Therefore, the net impact of the current Title I formulas is to favor states with greater capacity over states with greater need. The current formulas also include hugely distortive minimum amounts for small states. Moreover, the current formulas drive problematic inequities within states by benefiting larger districts over medium-sized or smaller ones. Miller and Brown’s new formula addresses these issues by substituting better measures for concentrated poverty and the cost of education and by eliminating minimums for small states.

We have updated Miller and Brown’s analysis to inform the current debates about the bill. Using the most recent data available, we again show that Miller and Brown’s formula is much better than the current formulas at targeting Title I dollars to settings of concentrated poverty. Specifically, we look at how much money districts would receive under the new formula and compare these estimates to their allocations for fiscal year 2014. (Click H E R E to see PDF & Figure 1) We determined the total state-level allocation by adding up each district’s allocation within each state.

In our analysis, we found that some states would receive more total Title I resources under our new proposed formula, and some would receive less. We estimate that Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas would receive the greatest increases in Title I funding in the first year of implementing the new formula. However, several states would lose Title I dollars in the first year of the new formula. These states include New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wyoming. We present state-level results for all 50 states and the District of Columbia in Figure 2 (Click H E R E to see PDF & Figure 2). Year-to-year losses are capped at 15% based on hold harmless provisions that are consistent with current provisions of Title I. Hold harmless provisions ensure that districts do not experience substantial drops in Title I funding from the previous year, although the actual hold harmless amounts vary according to the child poverty rate in districts.

Miller and Brown’s proposed formula does a much better job of targeting resources to the districts that need them the most. However, the transition period to the new formula would likely cause quite a bit of political pushback. Over the first year of implementing the new formula, several districts will lose out—particularly those that previously received more than their fair share of existing Title I dollars—and it might take several years for them to adjust to reductions in these funds.

To make this formula change more politically palatable, Miller and Brown also proposed an equity fund that would cover the losses for districts in the first several years of transitioning to the new formula. No districts would lose funding if they were eligible for funding before, even as districts serving high concentrations of poor students would gain funding.

We are not the first to note that the Title I program has struggled to provide resources fairly and to shift more resources to the most disadvantaged students. In their 1969 report on Title I, Ruby Martin and Phyllis McClure showed that Title I dollars were being used on activities that did not serve students who were the intended audience of Title I. Goodwin Liu described how the current formulas actually provide lower-poverty states with more Title I dollars per poor student than for higher-poverty states. More recently, David Cohen and Susan Moffitt have also argued that political pressures pushed the Title I program to spend money across a wide range of districts, rather than targeting the most disadvantaged places.

Each of the current formulas has suffered from one or more weaknesses, which Miller and Brown address in their proposed formula. They identified several formula flaws, building on the work of Goodwin Liu. In each case, their proposed formula would substitute new measures to address these issues. First, the current formulas do not focus on concentrations of poverty; rather, they consider both concentrations of poverty and absolute numbers of students from poor families. This means that Title I does not adequately serve students in concentrated poverty and tends to benefit very large districts over smaller ones. The proposed formula would focus only on concentrated poverty.

Second, the current formulas also benefit states with more children in each household, whether or not the states serve more children in their public schools. The proposed formula would measure states’ fiscal effort—how much they spend on education given their resources—based on total dollars rather than per-capita dollars. Third, the current formula does not adequately account for differences in education costs across districts or across states, as they use current state expenditures to measure costs. This means that states with more property wealth could look like they face higher education costs just because they spend more per student. The proposed formula would include better measures for differences in the cost of living across districts. All in all, the new formula removes these flaws and more equitably distributes resources.

Senator Alexander’s recent proposal for a new framework for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would leave the current Title I formulas intact or potentially eliminate them entirely. In the latter case, states could distribute Title I dollars to districts through simple per-pupil allocations based on the number of poor students they serve. This would effectively eliminate any consideration of the district’s concentration of poverty and thus fail to provide sufficient Title I dollars to the students who need it most.

We are pleased that Congress is working on improving the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and we hope that members take this opportunity to ensure that the most economically disadvantaged students receive the support they need to be successful.

~~  Robert Hanna - Senior Policy Analyst at American Progress ~~

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