The H1N1 response

THE H1N1 RESPONSE…. Obviously, the more H1N1 flu vaccines that are available to the public, the better. The slower-than-expected production of the vaccine has caused shortages, which can be frustrating for much of the public.

But the effort to make this some kind of political controversy continues to be misguided.

Some conservatives are now calling the mishap “Obama’s Katrina.” Today in an interview with Axelrod on CBS’ Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer advanced that view:

“What do you do to correct this kind of thing? You’re told one thing, you’d have so much and you didn’t. These are the kinds of things we heard after Katrina during a previous administration.”

I realize that there’s a political reflex in some circles — all disappointments must be exploited politically to undermine the president at all times. But here’s my question for conservatives: what, specifically, should the White House have done to respond to the public health emergency that it hasn’t done?

With Hurricane Katrina, there are plenty of actions that could have occurred — emergency preparedness, evacuations, the efficiency of the federal response, etc. — but didn’t. But on H1N1, the Obama administration immediately recognized the seriousness of a public health issue, mobilized officials, launched a public information campaign, and ordered the creation and distribution of a vaccine. The White House sought out all the right advice, from all the right people, and acted quickly. That’s what it’s supposed to do.

Now, if White House critics want to complain that the administration relied on misleading estimates from vaccine manufacturers, that’s entirely legit. The private sector was overly optimistic about what they could produce, and HHS relied on estimates from manufacturers about the speed and supply of a vaccine that turned out to be wrong. If the knock on the administration is that it over-promised because manufacturers over-promised, that seems fair.

But the Katrina comparisons don’t. Until and unless conservatives have specific actions in mind that the White House should have taken but didn’t, this talk is cheap and misleading.

Even Fox News’ Juan Williams gets it: “I must say that there’s a huge difference between Hurricane Katrina in government failure and what we’re seeing here in terms of delivery of the vaccine. This is a matter of private manufacturers not living up to promises in terms of the delivery system…. But I don’t think most Americans are blaming the Obama administration for this as they blamed, as they said that President Bush’s administration failed to properly understand or pay attention to what FEMA was not doing with regard to helping Americans with Katrina.”