Trial by Ebola
January 14, 2015 2:31 PM   Subscribe

When Ebola reached America, arriving in Dallas on September 20, the city had no real plan to handle the outbreak. Nor, it appeared, did the federal government. As epidemiologist Wendy Chung, county judge Clay Jenkins, and other local officials quickly realized, they were largely on their own. Bryan Burrough has the untold story of their heroic response.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
tl;dr - use your Dispatcher to move your Medic to Dallas and they can cure two disease cubes with every action.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:50 PM on January 14, 2015 [32 favorites]


(I jest of course - thanks for the article, this looks like an interesting read. Vanity Fair is surprisingly excellent for this sort of stuff.)
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:51 PM on January 14, 2015


What outbreak?
posted by cjorgensen at 3:16 PM on January 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I never get tired of linking to this chart: Ebola google trends. Pretty much the US elections cured ebola in the US.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:20 PM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Clay Jenkins is a wonderful person.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:24 PM on January 14, 2015


Two disparate thoughts:

1) The position of "county judge" is so fascinating to me - we have one here in Bexar county. In this article they're described as "mayor of a county," but they're much more than that as well. I don't think they necessarily "outrank" city mayors but their powers and reach are much broader.

2) There is a strain of conspiracy theories that focus on the CDC, and a potential epidemic like Ebola being the perfect cover for President Obama to declare martial law. The fact that this in no way happened, and indeed that the CDCs powers are pretty non-existent, does not seem to affect these theories.
posted by muddgirl at 3:35 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fascinating read. I was taking a class from a staff member at the NYC DOH while all this was going on; needless to say they were all working their tails off to get NYC prepared for Ebola's arrival. Thankfully, there was only one case (I think) and he survived.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:37 PM on January 14, 2015


It took a few Ebola cases to reach America before the pharm companies got serious about a vax.
posted by edgeways at 4:40 PM on January 14, 2015


You mean the Ebola vaccine that was actually developed in Canada?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:53 PM on January 14, 2015


As I understand it, there are now multiple vaccines in trials. My main point is though, ebola has been around for awhile with outbreaks occurring periodically in different parts of Africa. But this year when a minescule number of cases touch non-African countries... BANG, emergency vaccine development and trials. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy there might be a vax for it in the foreseeable future. I am a bit disgusted at what it took to actually get attention and funding for it though.
'Black lives matter' doesn't just apply to police violence
posted by edgeways at 5:41 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


That vaccine dates back to 2010.

Not discounting your larger point, but it's really worth paying attention to facts; you don't go from zero to vaccine development in a week, Outbreak notwithstanding.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:54 PM on January 14, 2015


That was a really interesting article, thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:04 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is disconcerting to learn that the county officials just assumed the CDC would take control of the response. With all the attention paid to homeland security in recent years you would think that the various government agencies involved in a disease outbreak would have a clear understanding of what their roles would be. Don't they run mock exercises to ready themselves for just this sort of situation?
posted by plastic_animals at 6:23 PM on January 14, 2015


The 2007 version of the State of California Pandemic Plan was prepared with support of the CDC and other federal agencies.
posted by X4ster at 6:43 PM on January 14, 2015


As I understand it, there are now multiple vaccines in trials. My main point is though, ebola has been around for awhile with outbreaks occurring periodically in different parts of Africa. But this year when a minescule number of cases touch non-African countries... BANG, emergency vaccine development and trials. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy there might be a vax for it in the foreseeable future. I am a bit disgusted at what it took to actually get attention and funding for it though.
'Black lives matter' doesn't just apply to police violence


I don't mean to be an apologist for pharmaceutical companies, but the average cost of a private pharmaceutical company to bring a drug to trial (based on a quick google) is ~$2.5 billion dollars according to Tufts University. And while I firmly believe the public government should be in charge of providing healthcare freely to its nation's populace, a private company is just that, a private capitalist company that seeks a return on shareholder profits.

The question of whether or not a company pursues a drug to bring to trial has nothing to do with race, simply a question of whether or not it is profitable. If the Ebola virus became a big issue in any country that could afford to purchase vaccines, any of these big R&D companies would be scrambling to bring new experimental drugs to trial. While the ethics of profit driving innovation and funding (see: orphan diseases) in itself questionable, I feel that you're reading a racial angle into what is simply a business calculation.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:19 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel that you're reading a racial angle into what is simply a business calculation.

we've traced the call and it's coming from... my god! the call is coming from inside the system!!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:33 PM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Another point to consider edgeways is that prior to the massive outbreak last year ebola had only killed a few dozen people in one place, a couple hundred in another in small relatively quickly contained outbreaks. There had only been around 2500 cases ever recorded (the recent outbreak in west Africa has had over 21,000). Compared to other massive public health priorities in Africa (e.g. ~78 million HIV cases) it was relatively small potatoes.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:58 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel that you're reading a racial angle into what is simply a business calculation.

we've traced the call and it's coming from... my god! the call is coming from inside the system!!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:33 PM


From 1976 - 2012, something like 2k total people have ever contracted Ebola in the history of planet Earth. In 2013, 25x people in the US died of the flu/pneumonia than have ever even contracted Ebola in the world.

If someone had spent the ~2.5 Billion to bring a drug to market, they'd except to have to charge 1 million dollars per patient for the next 30 years to break even.

If that had happened, your "system" comment makes me think you'd be complaining about that too.
posted by sideshow at 9:00 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that, despite the fact Jenkins called in favors from the White House to make sure the transfer of the family to a safe house wasn't a media spectacle, the rank and file presumed it was all just a big publicity stunt.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:04 PM on January 14, 2015


I don't mean to be an apologist for pharmaceutical companies, but the average cost of a private pharmaceutical company to bring a drug to trial (based on a quick google) is ~$2.5 billion dollars according to Tufts University.

You don't have to apologize because that is Tufts job. They are a paid lobbyist front for the pharmaceutical industry. Let's just say that everything they say is total horseshit.

Their numbers don't include the fact that most of the basic research for new drugs is paid by the taxpayer through grants to academic researchers. But those fake numbers do include the cost of tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to pharmaceutical executives. They also include the hundreds of millions of dollars of fines, penalties and punitive damages for falsifying test results, just a cost of doing business. Pharmaceutical companies spend more money on advertising and promotions (i.e. bribing doctors) than they do on research, all included in their bogus number. No wonder drugs are expensive.

Pharmaceutical companies refuse to open their books to the public so they are free to spout claims of anything they want. However, independent economists have used public information disclosed in SEC filings for total industry R&D expenses and divided that by the number of drugs that actually make it to FDA approval and came up with an estimate of around $160 million per drug.
posted by JackFlash at 11:04 PM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


JackFlash's comment piqued my curiosity. I did a quick search and found this recent NYTimes blog post: $2.6 Billion to Develop a Drug? New Estimate Makes Questionable Assumptions, which is very critical of Tufts's $2.6 billion estimate and the methodology that produced it. It also mentions two independent analyses:

1. This Public Citizen report from 2001, which puts the after-tax cost of R&D at $57-110 million per drug. That includes failures, which is presumably one reason why the numbers are so much lower than $160 million.

2. Morgan et al., The cost of drug development: A systematic review (Health Policy, vol. 100 issue 1, Apr 2011), which found that "estimates of the cost of drug development ranged more than 9-fold, from USD$92 million cash (USD$161 million capitalized) to USD$883.6 million cash (USD$1.8 billion capitalized)."
posted by twirlip at 11:50 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


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