Sunday, November 01, 2009

The reason I worry about H1N1...

Not personally.  I'm too old.
So why is it that older people would be more trusting of vaccines?
One reason is that people over the age of 65 remember a time when there were no vaccines. Polio, measles, whooping cough, and mumps were all diseases that caused grave illness before there were vaccinations. The polio and whooping cough vaccines were developed in the 1950s, the measles vaccine in 1968. Older generations remember these illnesses and a time when infectious diseases were not only more prevalent, but more deadly.
Those of us who are younger than 60 do not remember these times. Yet, we may recall that in 1976, there was concern that a similar swine flu vaccine was possibly linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome and that more people contracted this illness than the flu, which never really affected the population as was feared. However, the CDC reports that every year an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 Americans develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, whether or not they've received a vaccination.
Since I am not a physician, I am in no position to recommend or discourage the H1N1 vaccine or the standard flu vaccine. As with all issues related to personal health, vaccinations are an individual choice. And as I've discussed before, there are a myriad of reasons that people choose not to follow Western medical advice. I do think however, it's worth bearing in mind what the older generation may be able to teach us: Many people have died of diseases that are prevented today by vaccines. As is often the case with generational differences, older people have lived a history of which younger people have no experience. And although it is a typical human tendency to forget, or deny the lessons to be learned from the past, when it comes to healthcare, many older people remember a time when modern medicine was not an enemy, but a source of protection that prevented death.  [More]
But the trendy rejection of science and the conflation of folk wisdom with understanding of nature threatens to make this flu more of a problem than it should be with our modern resources.

The anti-vaccination movement has the potential to inflict serious harm on the most likely victims of swine (H1N1) flu.  
But the underlying argument has not changed: Vaccines harm America’s children, and doctors like Paul Offit are paid shills of the drug industry.
To be clear, there is no credible evidence to indicate that any of this is true. None. Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 20011) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems. The so-called epidemic, researchers assert, is the result of improved diagnosis, which has identified as autistic many kids who once might have been labeled mentally retarded or just plain slow. In fact, the growing body of science indicates that the autistic spectrum — which may well turn out to encompass several discrete conditions — may largely be genetic in origin. In April, the journal Nature published two studies that analyzed the genes of almost 10,000 people and identified a common genetic variant present in approximately 65 percent of autistic children.
But that hasn’t stopped as many as one in four Americans from believing vaccines can poison kids, according to a 2008 survey. And outreach by grassroots organizations like Autism One is a big reason why. [More]

This idea - rejecting science that contradicts how we think things should be is familiar to farmers. Consider the EU hormone ban. Or anti-GMO activists.

I find the same cafeteria approach to science in the debate over anthropogenic climate change. And before you fire up your response, consider this emotion is exactly how anti-vaxxers feel.
The rejection of hard-won knowledge is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincar√© said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people “know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling.” Decades later, the astronomer Carl Sagan reached a similar conclusion: Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort. “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society,” Sagan wrote of certain Americans’ embrace of reincarnation, channeling, and extraterrestrials. “There are unsatisfied medical needs, spiritual needs, and needs for communion with the rest of the human community.”
Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard. 

This flu is already serious and promises to strike at the very most painful core of our society - our children. America stands for allowing citizens to hold and promote their beliefs, but make no mistake about granting credence to the anti-science crowd, whether it is creationism or anti-vax.  It undermines the very foundation of not just our profession, but our culture.

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