Swine flu vaccine hysteria

I have no doubt that the H1N1 virus is still very dangerous. I am also confident that the World Health Organization is continuing to take extreme precautions to ensure that the pandemic does not reach catastrophic levels. But this Reuters article seems designed expressly to conjure up baselessly apocalyptic fears:

Saying the new H1N1 virus is “unstoppable”, the World Health Organization gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one.

Every country will need to vaccinate citizens against the swine flu virus and must choose who else would get priority after nurses, doctors and technicians, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research.

The “unstoppable” comment was made in reference to the spread of the virus, not, oddly enough, its inevitable decimation of humankind. That H1N1 already isn’t contained in one place should be obvious to just about anyone who’s read the (equally frantic) reports of swine flu popping up in dozens of countries, or who can conceive of how keeping tiny little viruses from spreading all over an interconnected globe might be a trifle difficult.

As for vaccines, Reuters’ depiction suggests a terrifying movie scene: government bureaucrats choosing who lives and dies while millions die for lack of the precious vaccine. These vaccines are necessary, yes, particularly for certain vulnerable populations, but they are not the only method of preventing contagion. The WHO describes the current severity of the pandemic as “moderate,” with “most patients experiencing uncomplicated, self-limited illness.” Instructing countries to implement vaccination strategies depending on local conditions is not leaving patients at the whims of capricious bureaucrats; rather, it reflects a smart realization on WHO’s part that every country’s epidemiological situation is different, and that each will have to incorporate vaccine and non-vaccine related strategies differently.

But an “unstoppable” virus with not enough vaccines makes for a better movie headline, I suppose.

(image from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons)