In a legislative session marred by infighting, this season’s disease du jour, H1N1 (swine flu, or as I like to call it, “bacon flu”) has achieved the un-achievable in Washington – bipartisan consensus. Against vaccinations.
What explains the bizarre alliance? It turns out anti-vaccine hysteria has always been a bipartisan issue. The last major American vaccine scares occurred in 1976, under a Republican administration. Under both Bushes, many troops stationed in the Persian Gulf refused to take the vaccine against anthrax.
Trypanophobia is also common across demographics. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that only 40 percent of adults were sure they’d get vaccinated. Among the reasons parents gave for not getting their child vaccinated, No. 3 was that they “don’t trust public health officials to provide correct info about vaccine safety.” Young people are no better, even though they’re especially at-risk for contracting swine flu. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology at Columbia University, recently polled a class of 50 students on who was going to get vaccinated against swine flu. Not a single hand went up. “I was teaching them about influenza in that lecture, so maybe I didn’t do a good job,” Racaniello recalls.
What’s a skeptical consumer to do? Just blindly trust Secretary Sebelius at HHS, who may or may not be unduly influenced by Elmo and the Sesame Street lobby?
Political leanings aside – be you fearful of black helicopters or the long-term implications of a relatively new vaccine – don’t freak out. And don’t push for mandatory vaccinations of your neighbors (they’re voluntary at the moment, but scared people in large groups do funny things sometimes.) Let’s start with a few common sense steps first, and leave people the option to get the flu jab as they see fit. A recent study by the Water Quality and Health Council showed:
- 77 percent of Americans cough without covering your mouth while standing in the lunch line/ sneeze into the air.
- 25 percent of Americans wipes their nose on their sleeves.
- 10 percent skipping sleeves altogether in favor of hands to wipe their nose and then extend for a handshake or reaching for a door handle.
So there you go: just don’t be gross. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.