Defending Swine Flu Vigilance

Matthew Yglesias gets it right as to the benefits of the attention paid to swine flu since the outbreak began. The immediate attention paid to the problem could very well help in keeping a potential epidemic more limited than it otherwise would have been.

There are several billion people living on the planet earth. If each of them becomes a bit more vigilant about washing their hands, a bit more vigilant about staying home from school or work from feeling ill, a bit more hesitant to travel to infection hotspots, a bit more careful about where they sneeze, etc., that all can ad up to a big reduction in the transmission rate. And if it works, you sit back and say “oh, well, I got all panicked over nothing.” But while it’s never good to panic, people haven’t been concerned over nothing—they’ve been concerned over the fact that unless people start acting more concerned, something bad could happen. But a prudent level of concern can solve the problem. That’s the system working, not a pointless gesture.

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  1. 1
    Christopher Skyi says:

    Yes, I think is a good and proper role of government: public health, and there the goal is to disseminate GOOD ACCURATE information, tell people what they need to do, and NOT scare them.  Even if the situation is scary, if people start seeing or sensing their “leaders” and “experts”  panic, what are they naturally going to do?

    It’s so easy to over-react and make matters worse. I don’t have on hand the details, but if remember, there was some kind of  costly fiasco involving the swine flu vaccination program of 1976, which killed more people than swine flu did. 

    Recall also the bioterrorism worries right after 9/11, the  “Dark Winter” scenario of mid-2001.  President Bush warned of “the use of the smallpox virus as a weapon of terror” in December 2002. The administration then spent hundreds of millions of dollars on smallpox vaccine for first responders and the military, but both groups (notably, physicians) shunned the risky shots.

    I don’t have the  details, but in both cases, the government’s reaction to understandable concerns was a costly fiasco in terms of money, wasted resources, and — in ’76 — lives.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The swine flu vaccine in 1976 (which is a different virus than the current one) caused cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, including 25 related deaths. The vaccinations were stopped after these side effects, especially as that flu showed very limited spread.

    Vaccines have improved tremendously since 1976, but that is being kept in mind in the response to the current episode.

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