Sunday, August 21, 2005

A pox on you, CDC!

Okay. So here’s the post I was going to write yesterday, about the blessing that is the chicken pox vaccine.

From MedPage Today, here’s the summary blurb that landed in the inboxes of all list subscribers on August 17:
Chickenpox Vaccine Cuts Cost of Varicella Care
ATLANTA-The vaccine against chickenpox, a disease that was once a staple of childhood, has dramatically cut varicella-related hospital admissions, outpatient care, and the associated costs of the disease.

(Note: to see MedPage Today articles you have to register. It’s free.)

I believe I’ve mentioned this before in another post, but some outrageous percentage of people will never read beyond that summary paragraph. As a result, it’s the most important text in the whole article. As such, it provides the hint to the conclusion we are meant to draw were we to read the whole piece. In this case, we’re meant to think: Hallelujah! Another vaccine success!

In most mainstream news articles, you’ll find that about two-thirds of the way through the story, a contradictory or questioning point-of-view is introduced. This is done to create the illusion that the reporter is fair and objective. In the case of this Teaching Brief (so-called by MedPage Today), no such effort was made.

Blah, blah, blah…stats and laudatory language for the chicken pox vaccine…blah, blah, blah…how many fewer people went to hospital due to the pox... And the final paragraph of the story reads:

Understanding the costs and benefits of vaccine programs is important when decisions are made to recommend or not to recommend new vaccines, Dr Davis said, adding, "costs are just as much a part of vaccines as their benefits."
Sadly, in the context of this article which is focused exclusively on the financial benefits of the chicken pox vaccine, we can only assume that Dr Davis was referring to the economic costs, and not the health costs of the vaccine.

This article made no mention of the number of kids who ended up in hospital due to an adverse vaccine reaction. Or the number of kids who suffered non-hospitalizing reactions that may have a long-term impact on the kids’ health.

This article made no mention of the fact that just this year the CDC was forced to acknowledge that one shot of the varicella vaccine was not providing adequate immunity, and recommended that all kids get two shots. The economic impact of government, insurance companies and parents now having to double their cost-per-kid-vaccinated was not addressed in this article (which only covered data between 1994 and 2002).

This article did not mention the fact that the chicken pox vaccine does NOT provide lifetime immunity and people who get the vaccine must get a booster shot every ten years for the rest of their lives.

This article did not mention the fact that when an adult contracts chicken pox, they fare much, much worse than children do, both in the ratio who end up in hospital and the ratio who die from the infection.

Think about those last two point together…the 37 year old who got the varicella vaccine as a kid, and has forgotten to get a booster shot for the last decade, takes his grade one daughter to school. Dad picks up the virus from some irresponsible family that has chosen to let their kid develop natural immunity to chicken pox. Dad gets really sick. Dad ends up in hospital, misses lots of days of work and maybe doesn’t recover. To hell with the economic impact: what about the emotional and long-term health impacts to that family who has just lost a young father and husband?

Let’s see the spin the CDC researchers put on the impact of the varicella vaccine in 10 or 20 more years, once the cohort of young guinea pigs who are part of this experiment have reached adulthood.

No matter how many ways you slice this one, the chicken pox vaccine is a bad idea for the majority of the population. To any kid who is otherwise healthy, the chance of having a bad case of chickenpox is very slim. (So long as you don’t overdose the kid on aspirin or Tylenol). Let the kid suffer through a few days of the pox when he’s young. Let him develop lifetime immunity.

When chickenpox made its way through my son’s daycare in 2000, every single parent was thrilled to get a couple days off, to stay home and cuddle with our spotty scratchers. Oddly, the CDC doctors would have you think that this was child abuse and an economic detriment to the country.

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