Image via WikipediaAre you getting the flu shot? If so, are you then getting the H1N1 ("swine") flu shot? In about a week, and at school, I'll be getting my first flu shot in about 7 years. Personally, I used to be allergic to the shot, but I don't have that excuse any longer. When asked why I have avoided the flu shot for so long, my usual reply was to offer my "expert" medical opinion: the flu shot gave me the flu. That was the story I told. And I now have come to believe that it's a false story.
But there is a battle brewing between the media and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), as reported on the NPR show, On the Media. The issue is a classic correlation versus causation mixup. As host Bob Garfield posited, "At some point, someone's going to die, shortly after having been vaccinated with the H1N1 vaccine", and the media will report on this occurrence, and conclusions will inevitably be drawn. As medical reporter, Ben Goldacre argues, "Health scares are a lot like toothpaste. Once they're out of the tube, they're very very difficult to get back in." Consider such culturally specific scares as the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism (in America), that hepatitis shots cause multiple sclerosis (in France), and that polio vaccines cause infertility (in Nigeria).
What is the proper role of the media in this situation? Government watchdog or public health information service? Where do you get your information about your health? Why do you think Americans are increasingly fearful of all kinds of vaccines?