Strong opinions, weakly held

The actual cost of anti-vaccine hysteria

Why didn’t the United States have enough vaccine to fight swine flu this fall? It’s partly because federal health officials didn’t mix adjuvants into the drug. Adjuvants are substances that boost the immune system’s response to a vaccine, so that less vaccine is needed per dose. Using them could have allowed us to create up to four times more H1N1 vaccine doses than we have. Most of Europe used adjuvants; so did Canada. Why didn’t the feds?

They were too worried about spooking anti-vaccine activists, many of whom claim adjuvants contribute to autism. This almost certainly isn’t true: Adjuvants have been widely used for years, with no reputable study suggesting a link between them and autism. But federal officials feared people would avoid the H1N1 vaccine if it included adjuvants. As Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in congressional testimony last month, “The public’s confidence in our vaccine system and in vaccines in this country [is] very, very fragile.”

Clive Thompson with his nomination for worst idea of the decade.

1 Comment

  1. ummm… here in Germany most of the vaccine wasn’t used for exactly this reason. There was a huge debate because

    a) politicians got a vaccine without adjuvants through the ministry of the interior (yes really) b) the military ordered a vaccine without adjuvants for actually really good reasons (they usually give out multiple vaccinations at once and thus the adjuvant would interact with all of them, but the media made a huge deal out of it)

    but most importantly

    c) adjuvants were approved in the EU only because of the H5N1-scare. They haven’t been tested in studies with more than 20,000 people so virtually nothing is known about rare and very rare side-effects (i.e. 1 in 100,000) which might well include auto-immune reactions which were observed in gulf war veterans. There was a lot of lobbying work done in Berlin to make sure the German government bought a vaccine with adjuvants exactly for this reason, as the pharmaceutical industry will use the swine flu vaccination data to get adjuvants approved in the US.

    But do you want to know the most important reason why adjuvants weren’t used in the US? Because the German government signed a special law that gave the pharmaceutical industry full immunity from damage claims through the general public especially class-action lawsuits and the US government didn’t.

    Clive Thompson, in my humble opinion, has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. The US government, stockpiling adjuvants in case a real pandemic hit, but providing swine flu immunization without adjuvants in general handled the situation a lot better than the British or German government!



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