Books, life the universe

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Scare stories

I find news stories fascinating chiefly because of the different slant each individual reporter puts on the same story. The current panic the public issue is the one of the Swine Flue vaccine carrying what appears to be a very slight risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). This seems to relate back to the same thing happening in 1976 in America. The facts - as far as I can ascertain them - are that 40 million Americans were vaccinated and about 500 got GBS of whom 25 died. The American government paid out large sums in compensation as might be expected.

The scare stories relate this to the imminent release of the Swine Flu Vaccine because of some supposedly secret letter issued warning doctors to look out for and report any cases of GBS following vaccination. My interpretation of this is that GBS is a pretty rare illness and doctors need to be reminded that they might come across it and to be aware of it as a possible diagnosis.

The less responsible stories highlight the fact that more people died of GBS as a result of the vaccine than died of Swine Flu. Could this just be because 40 million had been vaccinated and therefore probably did not get Swine Flu? No vaccine is 100% safe from what I can find out any more than anything else comes with a 100% guarantee. I have a flu vaccination every year because it seems sensible to do so even though I do know of someone who died as an apparent result of the annual flu jab. It's all about relative risk again - something the media does not report on.

What scares me more than the above is the apparently virulent (and growing) body of public opinion which is rabidly anti vaccination for any disease. The most common reason put forward is that 'vaccines reduce your immune system's ability to fight disease'. My scientific knowledge is not that great but I was under the impression that vaccination shows your immune system what to fight and therefore boosts it. I remember learning at school about Edward Jenner and cowpox/smallpox which ultimately resulted in smallpox being eradicated in this country if not the world.

I'm also concerned at the number of people who believe the Swine Flu vaccination is compulsory. I believe there has to be an Act of Parliament to do something like this as there was in the nineteenth century to make smallpox vaccination compulsory. Currently it is wholly voluntary.

No comments: