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Swine flu denialism

Flu fear TV.JPG

A deadly strain of distrust has infected leaders in Poland this flu season.

The country’s prime minister and the health minister have said that the government will not import swine flu vaccine. “If I had a 100 percent certainty that the vaccine was a panacea for the swine flu, I would certainly buy it," said health minister Ewa Kopacz, in an interview, according to this report. She added that she felt drug companies were “covering up” some information about the vaccines. Prime Minister Donald Tusk, meanwhile, has said that he will not buy from producers that will not take responsibility for possible side effects.

Apparently these politicians have not been reading this blog—as we noted last week, the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not seen consistent serious adverse effects.

As you might imagine, some people in Poland want a swine flu shot. Janusz Kochanowski, for instance, heads Poland’s human rights office, and is threatening the health minister with prosecution.

The uproar reminds me of the AIDS-denialism of the Thabo Mbeki, who if he lived down the street would be a relatively harmless adherent of errant web sites. But he happened to be the president of South Africa, and his lax policies on HIV drugs led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Fortunately, this a relatively mild pandemic, as a report today details. Nonetheless, Poland is a country of about 40 million people and the swine flu kills about 1 in 2000 people who get sick, according to recent US data, many of them children, pregnant women and people in other high risk groups.

Vaccine campaigns in the rest of Europe are well underway. But, according to this report from Bloomberg, a good proportion of the population has skipped a shot because they are worried about safety. It’s clear that public health offices could do a better job of explaining the safety of the vaccine—but what do you do when it’s the health officials who are afraid?

Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital via Flickr Creative Commons


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