Despite Reassuring Data, Doubts Linger Over H1N1 Vaccine : Shots - Health News The government is finding that it can't win for losing when it comes to the swine flu vaccine.
NPR logo Despite Reassuring Data, Doubts Linger Over H1N1 Vaccine

Despite Reassuring Data, Doubts Linger Over H1N1 Vaccine

Several months into the effort, government health officials are still trying to figure out how to address public concerns about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine. It seems a difficult task, even when there is good news, like today's report that the vaccine shows great promise in protecting pregnant women, even at low doses.

Even though no unexpected health problems have emerged from those who have received the vaccine, HHS announced a new arm to its vaccine safety surveillance system -- that old chestnut known as appointing a panel of outside experts.

The panel will review all the human data the government has, including use of the vaccine in the military, within the Indian Health Service, and other places. The panel review comes in addition to beefed-up ongoing projects to analyze reports of problems, and data already being gathered from various HMOs.

In a way, the officials are stuck. If they make extra efforts to study the vaccine, they're going to be accused of being worried about it. If they don't make noise about what they're doing, they will be seen as not worried enough. See some of our reader and listener questions here.

It reminds us of a story told by the late Andy Spielman, a mosquito expert at Harvard University, nearly 20 years ago. Andy was endlessly fascinated by both mosquitoes and human behavior.

He told us about a mosquito-borne brain infection that had picked off a few people in eastern Massachusetts. One town in the area decided to spray chemicals to kill the mosquitoes. A nearby town decided not to spray.

In the town that was sprayed, no one got the brain infection. Townspeople were furious about the spraying, they said no cases proved that thee spraying wasn't necessary. There were a few serious illnesses in the town that didn't spray. And you guessed it, people there were furious as well.

You can't win for losing.