Antidote: vaccine mongering

Readers of this column are not surprised at the firestorm of vaccine mongering—entirely unsubstantiated and inflammatory, that has been leveled at the new swine flu vaccine. I have spent years arguing on behalf of updating how we make flu vaccines. The cell culture techniques and genetic techniques we employ in many other vaccines are lacking in flu vaccines, in part because manufacturers are afraid to try new techniques for fear of provoking a new public worry.

Consider that the H1N1 vaccine uses a tried and true process that has been in place for over 50 years. Imagine what the outcry would be if the technique were updated. Completely inaccurate claims are getting traction that the vaccine was rushed or that it was made using adjuvants. Meanwhile, the flu itself, infecting millions, is leading to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths in the US.

Though this flu is comparatively mild, it is widespread in 37 states so far, and it is unpredictable. The best way to knock it down is with vaccination. It is very frustrating to see the old thimerosal argument rear up, despite the fact that major studies have shown no association between it and autism. The vaccine for children is available without it, and it has been removed from the rest of our vaccines.

The virus is similar to another flu that those of us who were born before 1957 have been exposed to. So we have some immunity. It is spreading more easily and causing more problems for the young, making the vaccine even more important. Fear mongering about the vaccine will cost us many lives.

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear
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