Sampling flu-related headlines, one thing you can be sure of: the hysteria continues. The epidemic may be easing – or not. There’s a vaccine shortage or not. (Taking no chances, Delaware has lifted its Thimerosal ban, mercury exposure be damned.)
Frankly, this all seems waaaaaaaay out of proportion for a flu season described as “pretty normal” by the chair of the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that the news of mounting evidence linking swine flu vaccine and narcolepsy has seemed lost amid the frenzy. (Consider: A Google News search for “2012 flu” brings up nearly 1.7 million results, 43 pages filtered; for “swine flu vaccine narcolepsy, just over 3300, 2 pages filtered.) Yet according to Reuters, about 800 European children thus far have been debilitated.
Europe’s drugs regulator has ruled Pandemrix should no longer be used in people aged under 20. The chief medical officer at GSK’s vaccines division, Norman Begg, says his firm views the issue extremely seriously and is “absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of this”, but adds there is not yet enough data or evidence to suggest a causal link.
Others – including Emmanuel Mignot, one of the world’s leading experts on narcolepsy, who is being funded by GSK to investigate further – agree more research is needed but say the evidence is already clearly pointing in one direction.
“There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Pandemrix increased the occurrence of narcolepsy onset in children in some countries – and probably in most countries,” says Mignot, a specialist in the sleep disorder at Stanford University in the United States.
Of course, says the article, “experts on all sides are wary” of creating a “vaccine scare” over a “rare adverse reaction.” And while we agree that it’s important to keep things in perspective and not overreact (as with the current flu business), we also believe people have a right to know about all risks so they can make a truly informed decision.
Yet this, too, is something that gets lost in the annual flu shot hype. The dominant media message insists on how important it is to get vaccinated. Pharmacies, clinics and countless medical professionals do the same, touting benefits without ever mentioning risks. “Get this. It’s good for you. Trust us. We know.”
Yet without awareness of risks, there can be no informed consent.
An informed consent can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action. In order to give informed consent, the individual concerned must have adequate reasoning faculties and be in possession of all relevant facts at the time consent is given.
And it is your right with respect to any kind of medical or dental treatment – including something as “innocuous” as innoculation.
Highly recommended: “A Heretic’s View of Influenza’s Role in Health and Disease” by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny
Image by Todd Mecklem, via Flickr