President Bush Promises Availability of Flu Vaccine in Florida Campaign Speech
President Bush on Tuesday "pivoted sharply" to domestic issues, "parrying" claims from Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) that he has "bungled the flu vaccine program," the Washington Post reports. Kerry has sought to link the U.S. flu vaccine shortage to broader problems in health care and has said the Bush administration ignored warnings from as early as 2001 that could have prevented the shortage. On Tuesday, Kerry presented a plan to address the flu vaccine shortage.
Bush has said the flu vaccine shortage has resulted because of concern from manufacturers about liability lawsuits. On Tuesday in Florida, Bush said in a campaign speech, "I know there are some here who are worried about the flu season," adding, "I want to assure them that our government is doing everything possible to help older Americans and children get their shots, despite the major manufacturing defect that caused this problem. We have millions of vaccine doses on hand for the most vulnerable Americans, and millions more will be shipped in the coming weeks" (Milbank/Romano, Washington Post, 10/20).
Bush also said, "We're stockpiling more than four million doses of flu vaccine for children" (Johnson/Kornblut, Boston Globe, 10/20). In addition, Bush said that he was "grateful" for the "healthy Americans who are declining flu shots this year" (Sisk/Kennedy, New York Daily News, 10/20).
Bush added that the federal government would work with the Florida attorney general to ensure an individual who seeks to "gouge the seniors of this state when it comes to flu vaccines is going to be held to account" (Riechmann, AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/19).
Bush also said that recent comments from Kerry on the vaccine shortage indicate that the he "will say anything he thinks that will benefit him politically at the time. ... With your help on Nov. 2, the people of America will reject the politics of fear and vote for an agenda of hope and opportunity and security for all Americans" (Boston Globe, 10/20). At a separate campaign appearance in Florida, Bush said that Kerry "is relying on a litany of complaints and old-style scare tactics" (Roth, Houston Chronicle, 10/20).
Bush on Tuesday also addressed other health care issues and reiterated claims that Kerry "wants to move in the direction of government-run health care." The Kerry campaign denied the claims (Sanger/Harris, New York Times, 10/20).
Kerry in an NPR News interview that aired Tuesday attributed the flu vaccine shortage on "failure of leadership" from Bush (Espo/Raum, AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20). Kerry added, "If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism? If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, what kind of health care program are you running?" (Milbank/Romano, Washington Post, 10/20).
Kerry spokesperson Phil Singer said, "Public health experts agree that the administration ignored warnings to take action to avert this crisis. America should not be left in a position where our public health is left vulnerable to flaws from a single company" (Manning, USA Today, 10/20). Singer added, "George Bush is clearly on the run, trying to hide from the fact that his administration has sent America in the wrong direction. You just need to watch the last few nights of network newscasts to see that" (AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/19).
However, according to Bush spokesperson Steve Schmidt, "All the polls show the president ahead in the race. John Kerry's on defense. He wresting a message from the headlines with no overarching theme or positive vision for America" (Boston Globe, 10/20). Senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes added that Kerry is "trying to seize on a health situation for his own advantage" (New York Daily News, 10/20).
In a radio advertisement released on Tuesday that will air in Florida, Kerry continued "stoking fears over the shortage" of flu vaccine, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The ad states, "If you're an elderly man or woman, if you're a young child, if you're a pregnant woman, George Bush and the Republicans have this to say on health care: Don't get sick" (Meckler, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/19). The ad continues, "George Bush and the Republicans are so busy kowtowing to drug companies, so busy giving them billions, helping them price gouge, pumping up their profits, so busy selling us out, they can't even get vaccines to keep pregnant women safe from the flu. Four more years? They haven't earned it" (Houston Chronicle, 10/20).
A Kerry television ad that also addressed the flu vaccine shortage was released last weekend but has not aired. According to the Post, the Kerry campaign has released a number of unaired ads to the media that amount to "video news releases purporting to be substantial paid advertising" (Kurtz, Washington Post, 10/20).
According to the Post, the effect that the flu vaccine shortage will have on the election remains "unclear" (Milbank/Romano, Washington Post, 10/20). Nonpartisan observers "doubt the issue will be a deciding factor for many voters, but they note that it's possible in an election this close," the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports.
John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said that the flu vaccine shortage "could influence a handful of voters" (Meckler, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/19).
Republican campaign officials said that have "seen no hard evidence the vaccine issue was shifting seniors' attitudes in Florida or other states," the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 10/20).
Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at Harvard University, said that the flu vaccine shortage issue could affect Bush at the polls because voters consider vaccines a basic service that the government should provide (Houston Chronicle, 10/20).
- NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday included a report from NPR's Don Gonyea and Scott Horsley on comments from Bush and Kerry on several issues, such as the flu vaccine shortage (Gonyea/Horsley, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Tuesday in the first of a new series called "Why Should I Vote For You?" discussed the heath care plans proposed by Bush and Kerry. Guests on the program included Dr. Rex Cowdry, former associate director of the National Economic Council and informal health policy adviser to the Bush campaign, and Christopher Jennings, senior health policy adviser under former President Bill Clinton and health policy adviser to the Kerry campaign (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 10/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.