A chairman of a key subcommittee announced on Thursday that he will hold a hearing on swine flu vaccine distribution in response to reports that top Wall Street firms have secured large amounts of doses for their employees.
BusinessWeek reported on Monday that 13 companies including bailed-out banking giants Citigroup and Goldman Sachs received over 1,400 doses of the scarce vaccine. In total, 42 million Americans are considered to be in high-risk populations and 35 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, said that distribution of the antidote to high-risk individuals should be prioritized before corporations receive them.
"I am concerned that the distribution of the vaccine is resulting in favored treatment for the privileged," said Pallone in a statement. "We have a limited supply and it is important that we target the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children."
Pallone said he will hold the hearing on Nov. 18.
The Obama administration has come under fire from the left and right regarding the vaccine's distribution. The conservative American Future Fund launched an ad Thursday criticizing the government for providing vaccines to Guantanamo Bay terror suspects. Liberal groups, such as the Service Employees International Union, have said that Wall Street firms should not get the vaccines before hospitals and clinics.
Children, young adults, the elderly, and pregnant women are at high risk for developing complications from H1N1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
A spokesman for Goldman Sachs told BusinessWeek that it intended to distribute the vaccine to at-risk employees. But Pallone countered that the vaccine should be distributed to high-risk populations no matter what income class.
"There is nothing privileged about the H1N1 Swine Flu; there should be nothing privileged about getting vaccinated," said Pallone. "The flu infects everyone the same way and causes the same illness; the only thing selective about the vaccines should be high-risk populations get them first."
Pallone added that "by definition, corporations with their own health clinics are more likely to employee the wealthy ... It is important that the vaccination process is effective and fair and that it is perceived that way by the public."
A release from Pallone's office said representatives from the CDC, Food and Drug Administration and vaccine manufacturers will be called to testify.