Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arbitrariness, confusion, fear and panic

Strange week here in the centre of the universe; it started off with a new law, as if we don't have enough laws. The new hand-held wireless law is the Ontario Government's latest attempt to make sure we are all paying attention to the roadway while we drive our vehicles. You would think this is a no brainer and there must already be some law about reckless or dangerous driving (there is), but the powers in Queen's Park think that is too vague. Now drivers will be allowed to push just one button to activate a hands-free device but that's it. No mention about applying lipstick, putting in contacts, peeling an orange, having a hot drink or cigarette or sandwich or doing all of these things simultaneously while taking off your jacket. This seems kind of arbitrary. Soon we might expect a requirement that auto makers put a closed circuit TV camera in all vehicles attached to a "black box" so that a driver's actions may be scrutinized after collisions like airline pilots. Don't laugh.

The strangeness didn’t end there. This is the big rollout week for the recently approved H1N1 vaccine. Media types were falling over each other to make certain the public was well informed about vaccination? Medical types were interviewed, all recommended the vaccine and we all learned a new phrase – vaccine adjuvant. The Americans aren’t using the adjuvant but Canada is. Just to be different? No, it makes what little vaccine there is go farther. But is it safe? Well it’s been used in Europe and in Australia during their winter without adverse effects. Each radio and TV News cast in an effort to cover the story only confused the issue. Much time was given to the conspiracy-anti-vaccination movement. Variations of these groups likely existed back in the day (late 1790’s) of Edward Jenner who first used cowpox blister pus to immunize people against the deadly smallpox. Jenner was ridiculed in the press of his day with cartoons that pictured his subjects as getting cow-like features after vaccination. In fact the word “vaccine” is derived from the original cow-pox injection. The thing is it worked, cow-pox vaccine was improved somewhat, but the original concept ultimately wiped smallpox out, so immunization is not a new theory.

Getting the H1N1 vaccine is probably a good idea if it is delivered in time. The waffling about the vaccine displayed by many people early in the week came to an abrupt end after a healthy 13 year old boy apparently died of H1N1. Parents were spooked, medical officials advanced their schedules and released the vaccine for the most susceptible within communities, but the fear and resulting panic caused long line-ups, queue jumping and frustration. By weeks end things got worse, GlaxoSmithKline, the company that manufactured the vaccine could not deliver sufficient quantities (ironically because they switched from producing the adjuvant and non-adjuvant versions) to meet the demand and now the future clinics for the general public will be delayed. In the end this may reduce the need for vaccination, if the main wave of infection has passed then why bother? It takes a week to ten days for the vaccine to mobilize the immune system in most individuals so if you are vaccinated in mid-November it could be December before protection is effective.

The finger-pointing will begin soon, people will get sick, panic, some may die but I’ll bet the root cause of this debacle will likely be at the feet of government. Sometimes even your nanny-state cannot protect you.

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