FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Anthrax Chronicles

The U.S. Congress headed for the hills on Wednesday after it was reported that the anthrax sample received at Senator Tom Daschle’s office on Monday may have gotten into the ventilation system of the Senate’s Hart Office Building. By mid-morning Wednesday some 29 Daschle staffers had already tested positive for exposure to anthrax, and hundreds of others Capitol Hill staffers were standing in line to get nasal swabs. House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced that House offices would close until at least next Tuesday, and the Senate was expected to follow suit. Congress is effectively closed until the middle of next week. Around mid-day came word that spores had also been found in offices of New York Governor George Pataki.

 

Despite the innumerable official-sounding speculations, no one knows where the anthrax originated or what it may bode for the future. The Daschle mailing, like the letter sent to NBC’s Tom Brokaw, was postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey. But if official accounts are to be believed, the spores contained in the Daschle letter were enormously more potent than any of the other anthrax samples seen to date. Televised CNN reports made ambiguous reference to the possibility that the Florida and D.C. anthrax mailings came from “different groupings,” but it wasn’t clear whether that meant they represented different strains of the bacteria, or just that they had been processed at separate facilities by different means. In either case it underlined the relative ease of acquiring and transporting anthrax bacteria. Processing the spores into “weapons-grade” packages containing spores of 1 to 10 microns in size may be a sophisticated procedure, but acquiring the raw materials was simple as could be until very recently-and there’s no telling how long the perpetrators have possessed it or how they got it.

These matters aside, there’s no denying that the use of the U.S. Postal Service was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the perpetrators. It’s a virtually untraceable delivery system (investigators pursuing the Trenton connection admitted on Tuesday that the mailing to Daschle’s office might have come from any of 46 different postal branches, and probably did not come from a resident of Trenton) that maximizes the element of fear and paralysis and makes the most of what may-or may not-be limited supplies of the bacilli. It likewise circumvents the problem of coordination and possible detection associated with a more public release of anthrax spores. The perpetrators have succeeded in creating the impression they can go anywhere: The sites infiltrated in the past few days include two major media networks, a titan of American capitalism-the Microsoft offices in Reno, Nevada-and two prominent state and federal government facilities.

Cipro: Public health vs. corporate patents

Meanwhile the patent lawyers fiddle as Rome smolders. Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical company that holds the patent on Cipro, the antibiotic of choice in treating anthrax exposure, is working round the clock to stave off international calls for the violation of its copyright in the interest of public health. On Tuesday New York Senator Charles “Boomer” Schumer joined the chorus calling for the broad-scale licensing of generic manufacturing of Cipro clones to combat the prospective rise in anthrax exposure. Bayer responded by promising to ramp up its production of Cipro from 15 to 60 million tablets per month. Even at that level, the stores of Cipro would be sufficient to treat only half a million exposures-and scares-around the world, since the preventative course of Cipro involves two tablets daily for 60 days. This is not to mention the cost factor: Under patent protections, Cipro presently costs $350 a month in the United States, but according to the New York Times, the same formula from “reputable suppliers” costs only $10 a month in India.

But set aside the cost and consider the broader ramifications. Capacity for treating half a million may seem a lot, but it’s a paltry sum from a public health standpoint given the rapidly escalating number of anthrax threats in the U.S. alone. The Schumer proposal is entirely sensible and prudent, and his office notes that at least three other drug manufacturers could be flooding the market with generic Cipro substitutes within two to three months if given the go-ahead. But the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is so far on the side of corporate patents. Said HHS flak Kevin Keane on Tuesday: “We’ll certainly take a look at the senator’s proposal, but we don’t see the need right now. Right now we have enough Cipro and other antibiotics for the contingencies before the American public. If we have an emergency, the manufacturers can turn this around quickly. We have to be careful about patent protections-there’s a balance there.”

As the Wednesday New York Times feature makes clear, there are provisions in U.S. law that allow the government to ignore any drug patent with impunity and allow competitors to make a generic equivalent. But so far the Bush administration is loath to do so. For one they are worried that any invocation of a national emergency to violate the Bayer patent on Cipro would set a dangerous precedent for the release of patented AIDS drugs in Africa. Many of the drugs in question are of course patented by American drug companies. National crises come and go, but business is business. CP

Steve Perry writes frequently for CounterPunch and is a contributor to the excellent cursor.org website, which offers incisive coverage of the current crisis. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

More articles by:
June 19, 2018
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail