Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where's the Voice of Reason?

There is a flurry of activity surrounding H1N1 vaccine. Where is the voice of reason in all this? As scientists, we should not be driven by social or political whims, nor by the driving force of capitalism. Rather we should take a close look at the evidence. In this case, the data show that overall this disease is mild. Several higher risk groups have emerged. Pregnant women are a big concern, but when you look at the raw numbers, the low N size worries me. True, percentage-wise pregnant women in the US are proportionally impacted, but isn’t the total number of deaths 13? Low N sizes skew statistical analysis. Especially if you are comparing that number to the total number of pregnant women.

There is an established process and procedure for testing new vaccines, established to minimize adverse events. Everything I read suggests that this vaccine is being produced with new processes and may possibly include ingredients previously not in US flu vaccine. I read an article yesterday where a researched noted that it better be shown to be safe in rats before she would have it put in her arm. I am in agreement.

Meanwhile the companies who make the vaccine stand to make (and already have for that matter) millions of dollars. Doctors may be able to cash in too.

Hopefully, everything will run smoothly, the vaccine with be a good one, and a lot of people will be protected. But we can’t forget the previous swine flu vaccine fiasco. Or how the early pertussis vaccines injured some children. Or the early rotovirus vaccine which caused some children’s intestines to slough off.

Vaccines have prevented an enormous amount of suffering and death, and I whole heartedly support vaccination programs. But as public health officials, we cannot stand behind all vaccines just for the fact that they are vaccines. That is just as ignorant as opposing all vaccines just because they are vaccines.

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