Flu vaccine insanity

Excellent commentary in today’s National Post about the “the stunning amount of misinformation being bandied about” about the H1N1 vaccine.

Joe Schwarcz, Director of the McGill University Office for Science and Society, writes:

No rational person with a plumbing or electrical problem would seek help from a former Playboy centrefold, a comedian who specializes in facial contortions or a retired neurosurgeon. We would seek out a licensed plumber or an electrician. Yet when it comes to immunology, a field more complex than plumbing or wiring, many see no conundrum in being swayed by the rhetoric of Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey or Dr. Russell Blaylock, none of whom are immunologists.

After debunking the vaccine-mercury link, he goes on to comment on the Guillain-Barré symdrome issue:

The anti-vaccine crowd commonly brings up the possible link between vaccines and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare but potentially dangerous neurological disease. That possible connection arose in 1976 when 48 million Americans were inoculated against the swine flu and 532 developed Guillain-Barré. That means roughly 10 cases per million vaccinated. No such relationship has been found with any vaccine since that time, suggesting that there was a problem with that specific vaccine, perhaps bacterial contamination. But here is the important statistic. The flu itself can cause Guillain-Barré — somewhere between 40 and 70 cases for every million people who get come down with influenza. In other words, the risk of getting Guillain-Barré from the flu is 40 times greater than the risk of getting it from the vaccine.

I’m a strong supporter of evidence-based decision-making in medicine.  The next shit-to-hit-the-fan will be about the new guidelines coming out of the US for mammography, an opinion that I have held for a number of years.  It’s already starting in my Facebook news feed.  But it’s hard to convince people in a sound bite that there are downsides to screening.  More to come.

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