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Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: medicine

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.

A data point on drug effectiveness

Here are a couple of sentences I found surprising:

The studies examined were conducted between 1987 and 1999 and covered Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone, and Effexor. They found, on average, that placebos were 80 percent as effective as the drugs.

Update: I wanted to pull up a link from the comments to a blog post the Public Library of Science that sheds more light on this issue.

Managing your own medical care

New York Times writer John Schwartz writes about the current state of online communities for people who are conferring about their own medical conditions. Things have gotten a lot more advanced than the usual “Googling about symptoms” that I occasionally engage in.

Here are some hard numbers on the quality of information that’s available:

Can online information be trusted? The answer, increasingly, is yes. In a study earlier this year, a report in the journal Cancer looked at 343 Web pages about breast cancer that came up in online searches. The researchers found 41 inaccurate statements on 18 sites — an error rate of 5.2 percent. Sites promoting alternative medicine were 15 times as likely to offer false or misleading health information as those sites that promoted conventional medicine, the study found.

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