Monday, October 18, 2004

"The Days of Swine and Roses..."

It's been a generation since the "Swine Flu" mess, and people's ambivalence about vaccines, their value and dangers, has grown rather than subsided. Every chiropractor's office I've ever visited has publications ranging in tone from calmly reflective to almost hysterical, challenging the use, safety, and fundamental validity of vaccines as preventative of all the hideous diseases we try to fend off using them.

The Present Fuss about the flu vaccine is another occasion for headscratching about the utter perversity of the Public, The Media, and Politics. Several times in recent years, the flu vaccine question getting all the media attention has been that the vaccine MIGHT CAUSE MUCH GREATER HARM THAN THE FLU ITSELF; so many consumers were complaining about coming down with “flu-like” symptoms which they insisted were caused by the vaccines that they were foreswearing submitting to the darn vaccines ever again.

Here’s a little background information:
Each year, a number of influenza strains emerge in different parts of the world, and begin to spread outward from their points of origin, in a steady march that brings them to the United States a few months later.

Human flu viruses exploit pigs and other animals as “vectors” (when they can’t get humans) and sometimes even viral strains from ducks and other critturs intermingle and we get unprecedentedly... well, “VIRULENT” new strains to attack us. This works for the viruses because humans and pigs and fowl have long-standing intimate living arrangements in some places. Like rural China, for instance. That’s why many of the new strains emerge from that region of the world, and bear such evocative names as “Asian flu” or “Swine flu.”

Somebody --- actually, teams of somebodies--- have to be out in the field researching the new strains all year, and other somebodies have to make educated guesses as to just which ones will eventually spread to the U.S., in order to formulate and then manufacture and distribute a vaccine that will be reasonably effective against the flu strains that are expected to show up in the U.S. months later.

The public take this whole process of critically complex interactive steps for granted. They complain when it works, and complain when it doesn’t work.

A few decades back (1976) there was a huge stink, with people calling for Congressional investigations around the so-called “Swine Flu Epidemic,” because it appeared the vaccine CAUSED the paralyzing and even occasionally lethal “Guillain-Barre´ Syndrome.” It took a number of very careful studies to show that in fact, there did seem to be some causal relationship, but what that really demonstrated is that in fact, there is frequently some tiny possibility of individual bad reactions to vaccines, despite the overwhelmingly greater good they do.

Here is the first paragraph of a Harvard School of Public Health study copyright 1997 by Elissa A Laitin and Elise M. Pelletier about that, which gives you an idea of the complexity of the flu vaccine issue:

In February of 1976, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigated and confirmed that an influenza outbreak at Fort Dix had been caused by the swine-type influenza A virus. Subsequently, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, as well as numerous medical experts, became concerned that a major flu epidemic was imminent for the coming fall. Fear of influenza deaths in numbers similar to the 1918 flu epidemic led to a recommendation that the federal government vaccinate all Americans.

When insurance companies refused to provide coverage to the vaccine manufacturers, the government agreed to accept liability for claims of adverse events (Neustadt).[I separated out this paragraph for emphasis...dm]

This obstacle having been cleared, the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP) officially started in October of 1976. The number of vaccinations given each week increased rapidly from less than one million in early October to more than four million in the later weeks of the month, and reached a peak of more than six million doses a week by the middle of November 1976 (Marks). The NIIP was unique in the annals of epidemiology: an organized surveillance effort was in place from the very beginning, and over forty million people were vaccinated during the short time the NIIP was in effect. However, on December 16, 1976 the NIIP was suspended following reports from more than ten states of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in vaccinees. By January of 1977, more than 500 cases of GBS had been reported, with 25 deaths (Langmuir, 1979). Millions of dollars in lawsuits and many years later, we present in this paper a summary of the epidemiologic evidence of the possible causal association between influenza A/New Jersey/76 vaccine and GBS.
(The full article is available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/DDIL/swineflu.html)

Joel Warner authored another fairly daunting technical analysis of the 1976 epidemic, available at: http://www.haverford.edu/biology/edwards/disease/viral_essays/warnervirus.htm)

The best discussion of that event is in the book “The Coming Plague,” by Laurie Garrett, former NPR science correspondent. Despite the sensational sounding title, she gives you a very clear understanding of how public health issues have been approached in a number of problem areas--- Ebola, the new vicious strains of TB, HIV, and how everything is affected by promiscuous overuse of antibiotics. It’s pretty darn comprehensive--- something close to 500 pages, with indexes (okay, “indices”)--- but it’s very readable, and doesn’t assume or require the reader to have any specialized science education beyond maybe middle-school-level biology & chemistry.

My reason for this dense post is just to say that it is typically irresponsible disgusting mud-slinging for someone like John Kerry to be blaming the present vaccine shortage on BUSH. To quote from the Galen Institute: “This crisis is the result of a series of policy decisions dating back a decade. In 1994, First Lady Hillary Clinton led an effort to enact the Vaccines for Children program, and the government now purchases 60% of all pediatric vaccines. “

Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m a registered Clinton critic. Look up the “Vaccines for Children” 1994 proposals and resulting legislation, which are credited to Bill and Hillary Clinton, with inspiring introduction by then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shilala:
http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/pre1995pres/931222.txt
A critical 1994 article in Reason Magazine:
http://reason.com/9411/col.pollock.shtml

3 Comments:

Blogger Emily said...

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12:30 AM  
Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Hi there Apsyny. Fairly interesting blog here, though I agree with your politics as much as you agree with mine. However, you really need to fix your url links. the url should show up as a number of underlined, hypertexed *words*, that, when clicked, reveal the underlying address of the site. If done like this, not only will the url itself not be revealed as text, but it will not run off the column, and the word itself, like here in click here, will be clickable as a link.

Furthermore, your links are showing up as text and not as hyperlinks, so they are not clickable. They are only usable if one copies and pastes into the address bar. Let me know if you want some help. Regarding the spellchecker, you can go back and re-edit any post at any time, so there is no need have spelling errors in a post.

10:06 PM  
Blogger The Mad Fiddler said...

Dear Robert Lindsay,

Thanks for your comment. I know it is possible to set things up so the web address is HYPERLINKED without actually showing.

For some insane reason, I happen to believe that making the address visible has value. Many URLs are distressingly arbitrary character strings, but insisting that they be invisible simply for the sake of convenience, or worse, for the appearance of sophistication, is to me an inversion of priorities.

I'm trying to find a balance in my posts (when I don't give in to the impulse to rant) between my personal opinions and at least occasional verifiable sources for the information on which I base certain opinions.

Quite often a web address (URL) will reveal just by itself, information that bears on the validity or coloring of the information to be found at that site. Maybe you maintain a subscription to AOL and receive an e-mail purporting to be a notification from AOL of a problem with your account, and a hyperlink, with the instruction to "click on the link." You click on the link and it takes you to a web page that seems to be part of the AOL member services area--- all the logos, colors, typefaces, etc. are familiar... The page has fields requesting you enter your member name and password. But the browser field at the top of your window shows a URL that clearly has no connection to AOL.

By now, a large population of folks exist that know enough to leave the site, and maybe report it as a scam to some authority. But the hyperlink in the text of the original scam e-mail, by hiding the URL, permitted the perpetrators of the fraud a semblance of propriety enough to lure you into actually linking to the site, where they at least will have collected a "cookie" from your computer, which may by itself give them useful information to put to some purpose you wouldn't want.

The convenience of hyperlinks has a price.

Regarding “splee chekcers,” I use them frequently, but I often find them to be obnoxious, dull, and doctrinaire. When a hip injury kept me abed most of my eleventh year, my mom kept me occupied practicing for the spelling bee. As a result I got to be a reasonably good speller, even getting into the habit of occasionally going to the dictionary. Still, typos occur, and there are slips of memory. Correct spelling has virtue, but I refuse to dismiss the validity of an essay with compelling logic simply because of sloppy spelling.

That's exalting form oversubstance.

Of course, doing that is one of the defining aspects of the present political dilemma, isn't it?

8:51 AM  

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