Media commentators Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have apparently fallen prey to the loony websites of the anti-vaccine folks and have begun campaigning against the swine flu vaccine program, according to the liberal group Media Matters for America.
Beck said on one show that he would do "the exact opposite" of what the government recommended and that his inclination is to attend a swine flu party and catch the virus now before it has a chance to mutate. He wouldn't take the vaccine because "you don't know if this is going to cause neurological damage like it did in the 1970s" (Sept. 30)--a prospect that has, incidentally been totally discredited. He also said, "People just feel in their gut, 'I don't trust these people any more...' They think our government could be so incompetent that they don't have any clue as to what they are doing." (Sept. 29)
Limbaugh addressed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying "I am not going to take it, precisely because you are now telling me I must....I don't want to take your vaccine. I don't get flu shots." Later, he added that if "you have some idiot government official demanding, telling me I must take this vaccine, I'll never take it." (Oct. 7) On the same show, he said, "The next time you hear, 'The government says...' don't believe it. You'll be healthier, trust me."
Both commentators are conservatives, but this is not a liberal versus conservative issue. This is a science versus nonsense issue. There are a ton of wacky websites out there--I know, I get e-mails from their readers all the time--telling folks that the flu is not dangerous, that the vaccine is experimental, untested, toxic, loaded with dangerous chemicals, and so one and so forth. Many of them even deny the efficacy of any vaccines, ignoring the fact that their use has virtually wiped out polio, smallpox and a host of other diseases and are universally accepted, along with sanitation, as one of the two greatest medical developments of the 20th century. A few claim that all you need to do is take supplements and live a healthy lifestyle--as though that would have prevented the polio epidemic of the 1940s and 1950s. Some even claim that the swine flu virus was created in a laboratory and released into the world so that pharmaceutical companies could make a fortune by selling vaccines. Others claim that the government is pushing the vaccines because former Vice President Dick Cheney and other government officials now own substantial portions of the companies that make them.
Enough already! All of those claims are patently false. The swine flu vaccine is made in the same plants as the seasonal flu vaccine, by the same manufacturers using the same techniques. It's just a slightly different virus. In fact, it will probably be a component of the seasonal flu vaccine next winter. That vaccine has now been given to hundreds of millions of people, with no side effects worse than a sore arm, and has been proved time and again to be between 50% and 80% effective. The only exception is in people who are allergic to eggs, who should not take the vaccine. Supplements and a healthy lifestyle may be good for you, but they won't ward off the flu. And if you really think there is a government conspiracy, just remember how hard it has been in the past for even minor conspiracies to be kept hidden. It's amazing how the same people who think the government is incompetent also think that the swine flu campaign is a vast, secret government conspiracy. You can't have it both ways.
I have no qualms about getting the vaccine myself, I would make sure my kids received it if they were still young, and I will make sure my elderly parents receive it when it becomes available to them.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II