Thursday, November 19, 2009
Interesting: The Great Swine Flu Panic of 2009
I'm pretty sure that not since the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003 have we seen such a wall of uniform media coverage of any single issue as we've had on the swine flu. Even during the Iraq war, most stories carried opposing viewpoints. Sure, they were buried. But at least most journalists felt a responsibility to acknowledge them.
In the case of H1N1, what's also interesting is that despite the panicked coverage only 36 percent of Canadians said recently they'd get vaccinated against the flu, according to a recent survey, while 65 percent say the media has overreacted. Similar numbers of vaccine skeptics have been reported in the U.S. and Britain, according to this poll.
Now, Dr. Richard Schabas, a top Ontario medical officer, has come out with some interesting contrarian views that provide more balance to the debate. In this opinion piece last August, he noted that reports had already indicated southern-hemisphere countries were experiencing aless severe flu outbreak during their recently passed winter flu season than in earlier years.
This paper in the journal Eurosurveillance confirms that flu-related mortality (including from H1N1) during the southern hemisphere's flu season "was lower than that seen during the same period in recent years."
While health authorities frightened Canadians with predictions of thousands of flu deaths, the rate of mortality from major cardiovascular illnesses or cancer is typically over 200 times higher than that from H1N1 so far over the same period of time, according to calculations based on Statistics Canada mortality data.
Any deaths are tragic. But as Schabas said in this CBC story, "It's really not causing - and is not going to cause and nowhere has caused - significant levels of illness or death." He said H1N1 "has ultimately turned out to be, from a pandemic perspective, a dud." Meanwhile, this Globe & Mail story reports Canada's vaccination campaign has cost an estimated $1.5 billion so far.
Too bad it took so long for some journalists and editors to start asking tougher questions and inject a little balance into the reporting of such a sensitive issue.
For more on what's in the vaccine and potential side effects from the ingredients, check out my story in The Georgia Straight, the Vancouver weekly, published Thursday. And to see an investigation I did last summer on how the flu correlates strongly with intensive hog farming operations, see here and here.