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Smallpox scandal plagues White House

Published time: November 14, 2011 23:12
Edited time: November 15, 2011 03:12
White House

White House

Move over, Solyndra. The Obama White House has immersed itself in a new scandal with a major Democratic donor. A deal worth half-a-billion dollars has raised questions about the relationship between Washington and the makers of an experimental drug.

The Los Angeles Times reports that for the past year, the Obama administration has urged approval of a $433-million plan to give Siga Technologies Inc. of New York the lone rights to manufacturing a smallpox pill for the US government to keep in stockpiles in case of a biological war outbreak — despite officials agreeing that the disease has been eradicated for nearly 40 years. Citing a 2004 George W Bush administration doctrine that says a smallpox threat could reemerge, the Obama White House is hoping to have Siga provide 1.7 million doses of the drug to be kept on the shelves at a cost far above what officials agreed to.

In observance with FDA regulations, the drug has not — and most likely won’t — be tested on humans, calling to question whether the supposed effectiveness of the pill is even existent— at a price tag of nearly half a billion dollars.

As it happens, Ronald O. Perelman, the controlling shareholder of the pharmaceutical manufacturer, donated over $300,000 through a Siga affiliate to the Democratic cause during the 2008 and 2010 campaigns. Additionally, Perelman himself forked over around $50,000 towards Obama’s inauguration.

Coincidentally, the Obama administration guaranteed Siga rights to provide the pill for the government without seeking competition from any other companies, a move which caused the Small Business Administration to cry foul. The Times reports that the initial federal contract guaranteed the deal to go to a company with fewer than 500 employees, which would exclude Siga from the bidding. In response, the government withdrew its first call-for-proposals and penned a new submission form — one that was delivered to solely Siga.

This latest scandal out of the Obama White House comes amid controversy concerning a deal that the current administration inked to solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. Federal investigators are currently combing through thousands of pages of documents to see if a massive loan guaranteed to Solyndra’s California plant had anything to do with ties between investors in the company that are close to the White House. A federal loan was extended to Solyndra, despite urging from Republicans to vote no, after President Barack Obama touted the manufacturer as a great investment; only months later, the company filed for bankruptcy and left American taxpayers to cover their lost costs.

The deal between the White House and Siga has aroused suspicious given that the government currently has around $1 billion worth of smallpox vaccinations on the ready — which The Times reports would be enough to inoculate the entire population of the country. Aside from trace samples of the disease kept in storage in the US and Russia, the rest of the world is believed to be free of the germ, which has around a one-in-three chance of destroying the infected. America’s current antidote has a shelf-life of decades and is proven to be effective — but only in the first four days of infection. ST-246, the antiviral pill in development from Siga, would be able to thwart outbreaks for those infected after that span — but FDA regulations bars the company from conducting test on humans. As a result, ST-246 will most likely never face approval from the FDA, let alone have its effectiveness proven. Regardless, the Obama administration has spent the last year attempting to ensure that Siga delivers the disease-killer to the American government at a price of $255 per dose — which would expire and lose potency in a matter of three-year’s time.

Such a pricey cost comes after officials agreed on a much smaller, affordable price to the American people. According to the Times however, when officials at the Department of Health and Human Services raised questions on the cost of the pill, the lead negotiator for the contract was replaced. The Times cites documents and interviews that confirm the role reversal at the DHHS.

With smallpox believed to be more-or-less nonexistent and the country’s cash flow draining daily, this scandal joins Solyndra as begging the question of if Obama is extending offers solely to keep his pals’ ventures afloat at the cost of the American people.

“We’ve got a vaccine that I hope we never have to use — how much more do we need?” Dr Donald A Henderson tells The Times. Dr. Henderson was involved with the World Health Organization and instrumental in eradicating the disease from the globe and should know better than anyone what kind of threat — if anyone — smallpox poses today. To Dr. Henderson, the president’s plan seems futile.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got a limited amount of money,” he says.

If the Obama administration has their way, a good chunk of money will be added to the $14 trillion deficit as America invests on a potential cure to an implausible infection. A half-a-billion-dollar boogieman has been created after decades of supposed security to keep the country from coming out of a deep recession at $255-per-pill.

That’s one pill that the White House is going to have a hard time getting the American people to swallow.

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