"It can cause autism, cancer and Alzheimer's; just eat fruit and vegetables to stay healthy!"
There are needles and pharmaceutical companies involved (and many people think that antibiotics kill viruses), so maybe I shouldn't be too surprised to encounter sentiments like the above. But people can get so emotional about vaccines! The specter of mandated vaccination terrifies far more effectively than does the H1N1 virus. Is this fear justified?More...
For the purposes of this post, lets say that you are weighing the risks of getting vaccinated. From your point of view, it may well seem like you are faced with a choice: a risk of a 'natural' disease; or a scary needle combined with a risk of an 'unnatural' disease. But let's zoom out, and put things in perspective.
Infectious and parasitic diseases are collectively responsible for the deaths of a huge majority of the humans that have ever walked the Earth (malaria alone has killed about half of us). If pathogens could be seen, we would recoil from them with more disgust than we do from the sight of any snake or spider. According to Wikipedia, they account for over 19% of the modern annual death rate, which is second only to cardiovascular disease, and leaves autism, Alzheimer's, and even cancer in the dust. They are caused by organisms which mutate and evolve rapidly, making them dangerously volatile and hard to contain. Even on battlefields, where people have done their darnedest to kill each other, infectious diseases have tended to do a much better job of it. If we really want to survive and thrive as a species, we need to put serious effort into controlling these parasites by doing whatever we can to limit their room to spread, and thus mutate, evolve, and possibly become more virulent.
"But it's only the flu"? Hmm.
On the other hand, you have the vaccine. An important first point is that the H1N1 influenza vaccine, although it is being administered separately, differs very little from the usual yearly 'flu shot', which itself needs to be varied slightly year to year. The influenza vaccine has been in use since the end of WWII. Vaccines have allowed us to eradicate or corner terrible diseases like small pox and polio. And what they haven't done is leave a legacy of mercury poisoning and cancer. Vaccines are arguably mankind's single most important medical advance. Ever. Untold thousands are alive today because of them. Like anything that actually does anything to you medically speaking, they may cause allergic reactions or other complications; they are not risk-free. But the vast majority of the accusations leveled at vaccines are just the result of a public lack of: scientific understanding; trust in government; and love of needles. Get informed, and weigh the risk against the alternative risk of not only becoming infected, but also of possibly infecting someone else, who then infects someone else, and so on.
If you are still choosing to forgo personal vaccination, then at least consider the ethical implications of the anti-vaccine hype. By choosing not to be vaccinated, a person risks communicating the flu to a vulnerable second party and allows the virus "room" to evolve. This is not just like deciding not to wear a bike helmet; your decision impacts others. And think before you try to change the choices of those around you! Are you really saying that those suffering from swine flu brought it upon themselves by neglecting their greens? Be careful; blame shifts with responsibility! And might not they neglect vaccination, for fear of being seen by you to pad the pockets of the evil drug companies? Are the people who look up to you having their choice made for them?
Unfortunately, there are real vaccine-related scandals, but they have more to do with the fact that there's only so much to go around. That people in poorer countries will have less protection from H1N1 is only part of it: will vaccinating only the affluent really help anyone in the long run?
(A special thanks to Dr B. And apologies for my liberal use of the word "organisms" )