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Waiting for Swine Flu Vaccine? Just Skip It.

In what may come to be called the Great Swine Flu Fuck-Up, local health officials have vaccinated thousands of schoolkids this year with the regular seasonal flu nasal mist -- a vaccination which unfortunately promises to protect them not at all.

The seasonal flu vaccine purportedly protects against three viral strains that aren't very common this year -- those three strains together will probably account for as little as five percent of flu illnesses. But the kicker is, once kids get the seasonal vaccine, they have to wait an extra month to get the Swine Flu vaccine, which contains a live virus. The two vaccines given too close together can prevent an effective immune response.

According to this Palm Beach Post article, parents are livid that their kids can't get vaccinated for the Swine Flu strain, H1N1, that the Post says may have sickened as many as 300 Palm Beach County school kids already this year. But parents should relax. According to an excellent article in the new issue of The Atlantic Monthly, flu vaccines don't work worth a damn anyway.

And for that matter, neither do flu medications like Tamiflu, argue authors Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer. Placebo controlled studies of flu vaccine and those flu medications so lavishly proscribed by doctors every year have never been conducted. And furthermore, any vaccine may in fact work least well on the populations most at risk, like the old, or people with compromised immune systems.

This is the curious state of debate about the government's two main weapons in the fight against pandemic flu. At first, government officials declare that both vaccines and drugs are effective. When faced with contrary evidence, the adherents acknowledge that the science is not as crisp as they might wish. Then, in response to calls for placebo-controlled trials, which would provide clear results one way or the other, the proponents say such studies would deprive patients of vaccines and drugs that have already been deemed effective. "We can't just let people die," says Cox.

Students of U.S. medical history will find this circular logic familiar: it is a long-recurring theme in American medicine, and one that has, on occasion, had deadly consequences.

The Atlantic article makes a compelling case for the old adage: When in doubt, do nothing.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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