Feature

Who’s afraid of the vaccine for swine flu?

Unfortunately, we now &ldquo;confront a different kind of contagion: the spurious alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent,&rdquo; said Michael Specter in <em>The New Yorker.</

Michael SpecterThe New Yorker

In coming weeks, a vaccine for the H1N1 virus—the so-called swine flu—will become available in the U.S. Yet if the polls are correct, said Michael Specter, a majority of people will refuse to have anything to do with a vaccine for a virus that has already infected 1 million Americans. Why?

The Internet is abuzz with rumors that the new vaccine might cause terrible side effects. Among “the anti-vaccine, anti-government, anti-science crowd,” in fact, it’s now doctrine that swine flu poses no real threat, and that parents, in particular, should be afraid to let their kids get this vaccine. But here are the facts: The vaccine for the H1N1 virus was made and tested the same way seasonal flu vaccines have been made and tested for years. Among the tens of millions who get flu shots annually, bad reactions—while not nonexistent—are extremely rare.

Every year, influenza kills 35,000 Americans and sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital, and depending on whether it mutates, swine flu may or may not be more dangerous. Clearly, though, the threat is real, with this new strain hitting young people particularly hard. Unfortunately, we now “confront a different kind of contagion: the spurious alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent.”

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