Fears over the swine flu (or the H1N1 virus, if you prefer to get technical) may have somewhat subsided and dropped from headlines, but worries about the disease haven’t died down completely. Among those who are particularly worried are parents. Chief among their concerns is the question of vaccination. A swine flu vaccination hasn’t been released yet, but some moms and dads are already uneasy about this potential preventative measure.
Arguing Against Vaccination
Vaccination has been proven effective at preventing measles, mumps and rubella, and certain strains of the seasonal flu when administered at the start of the regular flu season. Eliminating these diseases from our population has no doubt saved millions of lives over the years. But some parents argue, in the era when these diseases were rampant, the public health standards we now enjoy were virtually non-existent. There was little education on good hygiene, sanitation systems were poor or non-existent, and cities, towns and homes were overcrowded.
Since those conditions don’t substantively exist anymore, and because cases of the measles, mumps or rubella are rare, some believe vaccinations are simply a waste of money. Others say they don’t want any unknown or potentially harmful substances injected into their children’s bodies.
And those worries aren’t completely unfounded. In the past, the safety of the flu vaccine has come into question. In 2005, tens of millions of doses from vaccine-maker Chiron were thrown out due to contamination in their Liverpool, England manufacturing facility.
Another particularly frightening fear among some parents is that vaccinations which contain mercury or other chemicals can lead to autism. Although this theory has been refuted by recent studies, it continues to be an issue, particularly in the media. Former model and TV star Jenny McCarthy has been very vocal about this issue. Her child is autistic and despite the data to the contrary, in a recent appearance on Oprah she said vaccines may indeed have led to his condition.
Initial swine flu fears may not have done enough to convince anti-vaccine parents of the importance of vaccination. In fact, it may have done the opposite, according to Steve Brozak, president of WBB Securities, a firm that researches the biotechnology business and has been covering various strains of the flu for the past five years.
The swine flu has “provided more ammunition for both sides. For those who are for vaccination, it strengthens their convictions that they’re necessary,” he says. And for those who oppose vaccination, the fact that swine flu cases in America have been rare support some parents’ belief that their risks grossly outweigh the benefits, Brozak says.
The Argument for Vaccination
Sure, some science fiction obsessed conspiracy theorists may believe that vaccines are just an excuse for “the Man” to put liquid tracking devices into our bloodstreams, but statistics show that when more of us get vaccinated, it becomes less likely that people in general, particularly newborns and the elderly, will get sick and die from flu-related complications.
And although you may have never seen a case of measles, mumps or rubella, it doesn’t mean that the diseases don’t pose a risk or that they’ve been entirely eradicated.
“Only one disease has ever been eliminated from the world and that is smallpox,” says Dr. Robert W. Frenck, Jr., a professor of pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. “We are getting close on polio and hope to have that disease eradicated in the next decade. These feats were accomplished with vaccines,” he says. “Vaccines have been one of the leading reasons for decrease in the death rate among children,” Frenck adds.
Come fall, at the beginning of the regular flu season, swine flu will be a more significant issue, says Brozak.
“There’s probably a 66% chance that it’s going to come back at least as lethal if not more, and when it comes to prime time flu season, this thing is exceedingly communicable,” Brozak says.
“The swine flu could mutate and get worse, and it’s hard to predict what mutation it will be to [develop] an effective vaccine,” he says.
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