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Monday, September 23, 2002
The Washington Post brings us the facts:

For now, the Bush administration does not anticipate inoculating the nation's 288 million residents -- partly because the threat of an attack is unknown and partly because the vaccine can cause severe, sometimes fatal, side effects.

Except there is one other minor detail that I would be interested in hearing: How often is the vaccine likely to cause severe or fatal side effects?

A little Googling music please ...

Well, that didn't take long. The BBC reports:

Scientists from the University of Michigan have calculated that targeting young people - those under the age of 30 - would mean the vaccination of approximately 82.5m Americans.

Of these, say the researchers, approximately 190 people might be expected to die from vaccine complications.

An even more comprehensive campaign, covering almost 180m people, would cause 285 deaths, they say.

In addition, serious but survivable side effects would occur in 1,600 people in the smaller campaign - and 4,600 in the larger one.

Reaching for the trusty calculator, 190 deaths divided by 82.5 million innoculations equals 2.3 deaths for each million innoculations. Put another way, 2.3 ten thousandths of one percent of all the people innoculated will die. The wider campaign to innoculate 180 million people will result in a little less than 1.6 deaths per million innoculations. The difference in death rates is not explained.

To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin making a Republican governor (of Florida, no less) look real stupid: Gee, death, I don't know.

Come on guys. How is 2.3 deaths per million innoculations "a high incidence of adverse side-effects" (World Health Organization, October 2, 2001)?

The Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question is high compared to what? Certainly it can't be high compared to the deaths which would occur in the absence of the innoculations. Because if it were, the additional statement that "existing vaccines have proven efficacy" (Same WHO link) would be entirely false. If the vaccine is efficacious, then it will certainly kill fewer people than the disease it prevents. High compared to other vaccines? Could be, but is that a rational comparison? What exactly does it mean when you tell me that a mass smallpox vaccination will kill more of the people taking it than, say, a mass tetanus vaccination? Nothing whatsoever.

WaPo closes the linked article with this delightful little tidbit:

Last month, [HHS Secretary Tommy] Thompson sent recommendations to the White House on how many people should be inoculated in advance. Although a CDC advisory panel has recommended vaccinating about 20,000 medical personnel, several administration sources said President Bush is weighing a proposal on the order of 500,000 people.

"Until a decision is made on pre-vaccination," Hauer said, "our efforts continue to focus on bioterrorism detection and response."

Detection and response. Whatever happened to deterrence? Question: Do you think that terrorist X is (a) more likely or (b) less likely to attempt a smallpox attack on the US if the entire nation has been vaccinated?

Newsflash for WaPo: Me and mine will be as close to first in line for this dangerous vaccine as we can get at the first hint of an outbreak. And the only reason we will wait for an outbreak of smallpox is that we apparently won't be able to get vaccinated prior to that time. I recommend the same to you and yours, not to mention them and theirs.

However, if WaPo wants to await the development of an entirely harmless (ie: perfect) vaccine, they are welcome to do so, since that will make the line shorter for the rest of us.

It may take awhile, though.

And in the meantime, should WaPo really be trying to scare the living hell out of their readers with Luddite crap like this?
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