Somewhere in Pakistan, an earthquake victim is wondering why the people of Illinois – wherever that unbelievably affluent place is – sent his country 256,000 doses of flu vaccine. The poor man wouldn't believe the story if you told him. But sadly it's true.
It all starts with a state government so poor that it is financing state operations with money that was supposed to go to cover pension costs but which is nonetheless comfortable throwing millions of dollars at whatever crisis is in the newspaper headlines at the moment.
A year ago it was a predicted flu epidemic. Because of production problems elsewhere, there was a shortage of flu vaccine in the United States. Gov. Rod Blagojevich – without the approval of the Legislature and against the advice of federal regulators – ordered $2.5 million worth of flu vaccine from Ecosse Hospital Products Ltd. of Great Britain, promising that Illinoisans would not go unprotected against the flu.
But the federal government blocked the importation of the drugs. Illinois survived without a major flu outbreak anyway. But even though the state never put the vaccine to use, it was left with a bill from Ecosse. Dan Hynes, the state comptroller, refused to use taxpayer funds to pay for the drugs so a case is pending at the state court of claims.
The people of Pakistan undoubtedly are grateful to the people of Illinois for their donation of flu vaccine (which, despite the fact that it is past its expiration date, is still effective). And we suspect most of the people of Illinois are glad to help victims of an October earthquake that killed 87,000 people and left millions homeless.
But we're left to imagine what the needy people throughout the world think about those rich Americans whose leaders spend millions for drugs and then don't even use them. They must wonder: do the Americans really have that much money, or do they just lack common sense? Sadly the answers are no and yes.