so far, so good…

Unexpectedly, my wife and I lucked into receiving H1N1 vaccines yesterday. I say “lucked into” because it was pretty much exactly that- we were receiving treatment for an unrelated issue, got to talking with the professionals and discovered that they had both doses and the inclination to use them. The purpose of this post is not to brag- particularly given that there’s no point bragging about dumb luck- but rather to make an observation:

So far, as a result of the H1N1 vaccine, we have NOT had strokes, heart attacks, neurological distress, developed autism, died, or been forced to only walk backwards. So far, side effects for us DO include: soreness at the injection site and, in my case, a mild headache and some muscle aches. And frankly even that may not be due to the vaccine since I was doing some major yard work yesterday evening and may just be stiff from that.

So, just to counter-balance the Jenny McCarthy’s of the world, allow me to state as plainly as possible: we have been vaccinated against H1N1 and we are perfectly fine.

That is all.

16 thoughts on “so far, so good…”

  1. Glad you’re fine, and I’m not at all surprised. However, I am uneasy with all the bashing of vaccine critics that I’ve been hearing from many of my colleagues lately. Isn’t it more interesting to try to understand the social conditions that generate such extreme distrust in medical institutions and technologies? I take the vaccine questioners as a sign of some broader institutional failure. We might ask what is going on to make what appears to be a growing segment of the US population have a greatly elevated perception of the risk of vaccines. They can’t all be crazy and/or ignorant and/or Jenny McCarthy.

    At a personal level, my son’s very good pediatrician is fairly critical of many of the vaccines that kids get today. My son is getting vaccinated, but on a slightly modified schedule that minimizes the amount of aluminum he is exposed to at any one time (yeah, aluminum, not mercury, is the big concern now). I feel like I can trust my son’s pediatrician more than I can trust other doctors because she actually considers the possibility that some drugs and vaccines could be problematic, and doesn’t treat us like idiots who can’t be trusted to look out for our son’s health and the public good. I think her approach might be a better public health strategy than one of making fun of or demonizing people who are fearful.


  2. I’m fairly certain that we can understand that vaccines are extremely low-risk, know that there are numerous false claims about risks of vaccines floating about our culture, and share the idea that Jenny McCarthy is wrong in her dangerous anti-vaccine tirade, and still examine the conditions that produce mistrust in medical institutions.

    One such condition is the facile media that will give broad publicity to any claim no matter how nutter it is and “balance” that with an alternative claim based in solid evidence.


  3. I tend to think the anti-vaccine stuff is a symptom of a more general distrust in science. I agree with akphd that demonizing is the wrong approach, but I also don’t think it makes sense to humor parents who are fearful for bad reasons.

    There’s no evidence that childhood vaccines, whether because of aluminum, mercury, or other, causes significant morbidity. Ref: , ,

    Granted, it’s impossible to prove a negative, but the absence of evidence when large amounts of work have been done to search for that evidence is pretty compelling.


  4. I agree with ak and andrew that demonizing isn’t a useful approach. I also think it would be interesting to analyze the sources of distrust. It seems like with autism there is an unfortunate coincidence as to the timing of symptom emergence and the timing of immunizations, as well as certain (rare) conditions where vaccines do cause damage–so, there is something to it. There are alternate interests and profits to be made in the market for alternative health products and for people like Dr. Sears who present themselves as objective when really they are profiting from fear of vaccines. There are also ideologues from the Christian right behind the clamor against the HPV vaccine. In following up with some things an anti-vax friend posted on facebook on the HPV vaccine, I found some very suspicious attributions to Dr. Diane Harper about the danger of the vaccine that seemed potentially fabricated and, as it turns out, were. So, while there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of medical institutions and technologies (though vaccines are not generally very profitable compared with other pharmaceuticals), there are also reasons to be suspicious of the critics. Unfortunately, as Tina notes, stretched media outlets trying to find material rely on facile notions of balance and don’t examine things critically.


  5. I tend not to get worried about the nutters on something like swine flu, since us humans aren’t going to stamp out influenza’s, and they aren’t generally that lethal for most people. If the black helicopter people and the holistic hippies want to get the shittin’ pukes with cough, have at it–most of them will be ok in the end. I get more distressed when the tin-foil hatters and herbal remedy folk stop vaccinating their kids for polio, TB, and other more deadly–and potentially eradicable–diseases. Then, of course, they send their kids to school (often with faked immunizations provided by a sympathetic “holistic health doctor”).


  6. So we know who shares the anti-vaccine sentiment? What are the demographic and political correlates, and how strong are they? Is there variation– I mean, are some people against all vaccines, and some just against H1N1? Are the teabaggers against the vaccine because it’s something the Obama government is doing? Or are they criticizing the Obama administration for not putting out enough of it? Which is it; or is it both?

    Me, personally? Our secretary came back to the office last Monday afternoon and said, “They’re giving out the H1N1 vaccine at the student center. It’s free and there’s no line.” Without much thought or Interent searching, I walked over and got my shot. Since then, no symptoms, not even soreness in the arm. Maybe it was a placebo.


  7. I don’t intend to take the vaccine because of the fact that it was created so quickly, and the companies were given immunity from prosecution if anything goes wrong.

    I trust the institution of medicine because I have a sense that most medicines and vaccines have been through rigorous testing and that the companies usually have a lot to lose if the discover something wrong with the product and release it anyway. In this case: if there was a serious side-effect and the company discovered it, why on earth would they stop distributing it and protect the consumer’s interests?



  8. I take issue with the “fact” that the vaccine was created quickly. Flu vaccines have been around for decades. The H1N1 vaccine went through the regular protocol for testing. If you have some more specific information about any corners that were cut in producing this flu vaccine, I’d like to read it.


  9. We had swine flu vaccine back in the 1970s, and we’ve had vaccinations for influenza of general strains for a long time. This stuff wasn’t cooked up last week. I don’t think I was vaccinated in the 1970s–but I might have been, I’ll have to ask my mom next week. My buddies who grew up in Illinois said that vaccination was mandatory for the swine flu back in the mid-1970s (I grew up in Oklahoma, where you can marry your sister at age 13, and only communists get vaccinated or drink flouridated water). Personally, I never do flu shots, and I never get the flu. Both of my kids already had what is assumed to be swine flu, and neither me nor my spouse got it (she may have been vaccinated back in the 1970s, I’ll ask her mom in December). I think there are considerable individual differences in the maintenance of immunity to influenza. Some people are very likely to get sick if they don’t get vaccinated. But, for most, even if they get sick, it isn’t TB or Polio.


  10. I do remember the swine flu scare of the 1970s although I cannot remember whether we got vaccinated then. In most recent years I’ve been considered “high risk” due to my age, although I’m actually low risk because I am healthy and just don’t get sick from the diseases that are infecting everyone else.

    There’s a shortage of both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine here and it is being rationed. I don’t care whether I get vaccinated, but I’m pretty concerned about my age 22 son who has a health condition that makes him high risk, as well as my spouse who also has a risk condition and also tends to get laid low by whatever is going around. The current rationing here is limiting the vaccine to people under 18 with risk conditions. The nasal vaccine is available to young people with no risk factors.

    I don’t know why the vaccine is in such short supply here, but speculate it is due to this being an affluent area and suspect that a lot of the early supply of vaccine when to pushy people with an “in.” But it might be due to more global distribution patterns.

    It interests me that I am concerned about getting loved ones vaccinated while others think they are smart to avoid it. Weird stuff.


  11. At first, we weren’t going to get the vaccine for our 18 month old. We had the luxury of taking him out of the germ factory (day care) for the winter because my mom volunteered to care for him – hopefully avoiding a repeat of last year’s series of ear infections, respiratory illnesses, etc. So I figured he was unlikely to be exposed. And I am not planning on getting the vaccine because I never get a flu shot and I never get the flu (seriously, I don’t think I have ever had the flu). But now that several of my students have had swine flu, I am worried about bringing it home. So now my husband is taking the baby to the pediatrician today to try to get him the H1N1 vaccine. It is pretty tightly rationed, but I think we can make the case that he is particularly vulnerable because he has a history of respiratory problems and because I am exposed to potentially sick kids every day. So we’ll see. In summary, I’ve gone from being disinterested in the vaccine to actively pursing it for my son.

    At the risk of doing really annoying self-ethnography here, I think people’s (my?) subjective assessments of risk change as circumstances change. Not just with the availability of factual information (e.g. knowing how many kids have died from the swine flu, and that the vaccine is made in the same way as other flu vaccines) but also with more direct, emotional experiences (e.g. hearing directly from a student about how awful the sickness was, once having a bad interaction with a pushy doctor, reading about the experience of a family whose child had a very rare but debilitating side effect from a vaccine, remembering past misdeeds of the pharmaceutical industry, etc).

    On that last point (the drug industry), I agree with andrewperrin that fear of the vaccine is related to distrust in science. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have good reason to distrust scientific institutions. It’s not like the FDA has never screwed up, or the drug industry has a perfect record, or doctors never do harm to their patients.


  12. One of the interesting side-aspects of this has been watching anti-vaccine or Intelligent Design or other anti-science types shift at least partly away from a classically paranoid style and instead begin to rely on modes of argument that were, more or less, developed by constructivist social scientists in the 70s and 80s to critique how medical, state and scientific institutions interacted to manage other problem areas, such as sexual behavior or women’s health or what have you.


  13. Yes! to what Kieran said. It’s fascinating, and has made many people in science and technology studies swing back the other way (against constructivism) to disassociate themselves from the right-wing fringes that are using constructivist arguments. I’m in an STS dept and go to the STS meetings, so I see this happening a lot.

    The most uncomfortable thing about this is that there is kind of a meeting of the two ends of the political spectrum, with people on the radical left (and a lot of sociologists/science studies people, I might add) questioning certain aspects of vaccines or stem cell research or whatever, at the same time as people on the right. Of course, their concerns have different justifications, and they aren’t actually in league with each other – but that isn’t always obvious to observers.

    I guess what’s happening is an attack on modernism/objectivism, coming from both the right and the left, the fundamentalists and the hippies/postmodernists.

    There’s a fascinating/troubling case in which a prominent, radical STS scholar (Steve Fuller) testified on behalf of some intelligent design activists. It was bizarre, and now he is kind of a pariah in STS.


  14. The attack on modernism/objectivism runs on the argument like, “there are just too many questions about this.” This was Lou Dobbs’s line on the Birth Certificate. Who can argue against questioning authority?

    Reminds me of the argument over “missing links” in evolution, which are gaps in the fossil record between arbitrarily categorized species on a continuum of change. Richard Dawkins points out in is current book that for every intermediate one “species” identified between two that are currently known, you create two “missing links” – one on each side of the new discovery.


  15. And, of course, those “questions” often follow common narratives from within social movements (ala Somer’s work). When reality is viewed only from within these limited lenses, and when social networks are consolidated among likeminded folk, information flows can become quite limited and inaccurate. Indeed, my (shameful plug) paper in the latest issue of Social Science Research examines this process and shows how closed communities limit information, and how this influences verbal ability (I have a sister paper on scientific proficiency, soon to go out…).


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