Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Shot or No Shot

No, Howie Mandel hasn't taken over IB; this may truly be life or death. This fall, millions of us will decide whether or not to be vaccinated for the "regular" flu and/or the porcine version. Some folks consider this a "no-brainer," but I'm not so sure. Granted, the shots are hardly big ticket health care items for most of us; indeed, many plans pay most or even all of the cost. But even without insurance reimbursement, we're talking tens, not hundreds, of dollars.

So why the indecision?

There's evidence that links the "seasonal" flu shot to an increased risk of getting the H1N1 variety. And as if that wasn't disturbing enough, there's doubt in some people's minds as to the safety of the swine flu vaccine. Is any of this "settled science?" Not as far as I've been able to determine.

But is it credible?

I'd have to say yes:

"An unpublished Canadian study that suggests getting an annual flu shot may make it easier to contract swine flu has caused most provincial governments in Canada to postpone or limit seasonal-flu vaccination programs."

It would be irresponsible of me not to point out that this study is not, apparently, peer-reviewed, and is based on limited data. But the folks behind it are the "British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion and Laval University in Quebec," not exactly fly-by-night outfits. They studied databases in these provinces, and saw a potential link between having a seasonal flu shot last year and developing the swine version this year. As the saying goes, "correlation isn't causation," but this does give one pause.

So that's the issue with the "regular" variety. But what about the H1N1 vaccine?

Well that, too, has run into some questions. For one thing, it's new and somewhat experimental. That's not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is a valid concern. For another, it was developed and is being produced in a very short time, which calls into question the efficacy of the testing process. Again, I'm not convinced that it's unsafe; I'm not a medico and can only rely only what I read and what seems to make sense. There are some sites that have taken this "over the top," accusing "Big Pharma" of manufacturing the seriousness of the disease in order to swell its own coffers.

That smells like tin-foil to me.

But there is legitimate concern out there:

"A recent poll by Consumer Reports found that two-thirds of parents plan to delay or skip getting their children the H1N1 shot altogether."

HHS Secretary Sebelius "unconditionally vouched for the safety of the vaccine," as if her brief tenure in that office has somehow conferred upon her some kind of illuminated medical brilliance. Let's just say that I find her reassurance less than, well, reassuring. Still, the folks at the CDC are confident that the vaccine is safe, and that it was produced "in exactly the same manner as the seasonal flu vaccine."

Which may or may not be reassuring itself, depending on how one feels about Canadian databases.
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