Epidemic is mild; H1N1 shot works, take no chances

H1N1 swine flu vaccine is available now, free of charge, at the SEK Multi-County Health Department clinic at Broadway and Jefferson streets. Those who have not been vaccinated should get it done. The vaccine is effective and the pandemic — the first to hit the U.S. in over 40 years — has been relatively mild.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10,000 had died of the illness by mid-November. This is in comparison to the estimate made in August by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that fatalities would run between 30,000 and 90,000. The vaccination of 60 million Americans has helped keep fatalities low.
Past flu epidemics have been much more lethal. The Spanish flu that struck the U.S. in 1918 killed 21⁄2 percent of all who contracted it: 50 of every 2,000; H1N1 kills about one of every 2,000. Still, one death is too many if the victim is a family member or oneself. While most victims are children and young adults, some older people have died, so it’s foolish to decide against the vaccine on the basis of probabilities.
While some have harshly criticized federal officials for the late start in the immunization campaign, the conservative tactics used by federal officials — including a refusal to close the Mexican border and shut down U.S. school systems — have allowed the campaign to go forward with a minimum of damage to the economy.
Producing the vaccine proved a challenge. Based on past experience, CDC scientists predicted that 160 million vaccine doses would be ready by late October 2008. It ended up with less than 30 million be-cause, due to the nature of the virus itself, only .2 to .6 doses could be produced from each injected egg in comparison to the 1.4 to 2 doses vaccine producers had expected.
The miscalculation produced a storm of criticism, which was intensified by exaggerated rumors about the threat posed by the pandemic.
Robin Robinson, who is head of vaccine purchasing for the Department of Health and Human Services, told a New York Times reporter than if he had it to do over, he would have used a worst-case scenario and predicted that it would have been 2010 before supplies would be adequate.
“Imagine if they’d managed the expectations better,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Re-search and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “If they’d said we won’t have any until December and had some in October, they would have looked like heroes.”

DESPITE effective and widespread debunking of rumors about injurious after-effects of the vaccine, a sizable minority of Americans have re-jected the vaccine be-cause they chose to be-lieve false rumors and dismiss expert denials. Many of those have become infected and continue to spread the virus.
“As with AIDS,” one cynic observed, “people have to die before others understand the consequences of ignoring science-based medicine.”
Still, nearly 60 million have been vaccinated, including many children and pregnant women, and there has been no surge of negative side effects.
H1N1 has been — and is being — fought in over 200 countries. Students of past flu epidemics and other widespread infectious diseases give the U.S. federal agencies that produced and distributed the vaccine here high marks.
Today, most of the attacks on the CDC and its decisions come from candidates gearing up for the November congressional elections. As there is no vaccine to protect against Love-Me-Hate-You flu, more’s the pity.

Emerson Lynn, jr.