Philip Alcabes discusses myths of health, disease and risk.

Already Apologizing…

It looks like the Preparedness crusaders, anticipating flak on the swine flu immunization, are already preparing their defense.

In this week’s Lancet, Dr. Steven Black, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and colleagues present calculations of the expected frequencies of adverse consequences (abstract at link; subscription required for full text) likely to result from flu immunization.  The intent being to provide a basis for comparison, so that when events do occur following immunization, the vaccine won’t be blamed for them.

“Widespread beliefs that such false associations [of adverse events with vaccination] are true can and do disrupt immunization programs, often to the detriment of public health,” the authors write.

Testament to the persuasiveness of the rhetoric, an experienced and knowledgeable Reuters reporter is taken in.  Covering the Lancet article, Maggie Fox writes:

People have special fears about Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). a rare neurological condition that was linked to a 1976 U.S. swine flu vaccination campaign. Although no case of GBS was ever linked to the vaccine, a belief that the vaccine was worse than the illness remains widespread.

Not exactly.  At least 500 cases of GBS were linked to flu vaccine in 1976 — “linked” in the sense that Fox uses the word in the first sentence:  they occurred in vaccine recipients and were in excess of the number of GBS cases likely to have occurred had there been no adverse effect of vaccination.  Thirty-two of those cases were fatal.  That they were not “linked” in her second sentence means that the criteria for association have shifted, or can shift.

The method by which the 1976 GBS cases were linked to vaccine was exactly the same as the method Black and his colleagues propose as the test for determining whether adverse events are linked to the 2009 immunizations.

But if the nature of association can shift, then Black and company can play a double game.  On the one hand, no illness or death can be attributed to vaccine if it occurs at a rate less than that expected in normal times, sans vaccination.  That’s the premise of this week’s Lancet article.

On the other hand, no illness or death that occurs at a rate greater than expected can be attributed to vaccine unless there is some additional proof — not just statistics but, we imagine, pathology results from surgery or autopsy — demonstrating a link between vaccine and illness, or vaccine and death.  That’s the conclusion that the Reuters correspondent drew after talking with Black and company.

In other words, the vaccine “scientists” have already demonstrated that you’re wrong if you think vaccine has done anything bad.   Don’t bother alleging that vaccine harmed your child, spouse, or parent.

We have to wonder why physicians (the main authors of the Lancet paper are all MDs, as are the public health officials who are promoting mass immunization as a flu-control strategy) are mounting their defense of flu vaccination, when hardly anyone has been immunized yet.

And we have to wonder why physicians call themselves scientists when they don’t want to deal with evidence — only their own certainty that vaccination is a good public health strategy.  A strategy whose inevitable shortcomings they’re already defending.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 31st, 2009 at 10:29 am and is filed under Disease, epidemics, Health Professions, News, Outbreaks, Physicians, public health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.