Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Cost of Providing a Ventilator Safety Net for a Pandemic (And the Cost of Not)

The Cost of Providing a Ventilator Safety Net for a Pandemic
(And the Cost of Not)

Today I am talking strictly money. This does not men I do not appreciate the extreme suffering that many avoidable deaths will have on the fabric of our (caring?) western civilization. I just want to put the numbers in focus.

Donald McNeil (mcneil@nytimes.com) of the New York Times, in his column of March 12, 2006, "Hospitals Short on Ventilators if Bird Flu Hits" says that it would cost the US 18 billion dollars to buy enough ventilators to prepare the US against a pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu. I think this number is way too high. Numbers like this scare the government so much that they buy almost no ventilators at all. They give up.

$18,000,000,000 dollars will buy 600,000 ventilators at $30,000 dollars each. Since there are only about 100,000 ventilators currently in the US, the existing physicians, respiratory therapists and RN staff would have to be able to expand their workload by a factor of 6. This, also in the face of many of their own number being sick. I think a more reasonable number would be that they could expand their capacity by a factor of 3.

McNeil obviously bases his estimate on the figure quoted by the US government that 750,000 would require ventilators in a pandemic. The 750,000 would not all show up at the hospital the same day. Pandemics can take as long as 12 to 18 months from start to finish. They can come in several waves, so that each ventilator can be used to treat several patients sequentially. 200,000 ventilators is a more reasonable maximum. The ventilators need not be the most expensive fully featured units either. If you could get 200,000 ventilators for $5,000 each, the cost would be only 1 billion. That’s less than a penny a day for each US resident over the next year.

Now a very high proportion of the deaths will occur in younger people. These are the people that are supposed to be paying for the huge national debt and social security obligations of the older people. How many trillions of dollars in lost future tax revenue does this represent.

In the US, they are planning on 5,000 to 10,000 spare ventilators, depending on whose numbers you believe. In Canada there are no plans to stockpile additional ventilators. Thank You Mr. Harper.

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