26 October 2009

Vaccines

The Money Times | H1N1 vaccine supply falls short of demand

New York, October 25 — As swine flu threatens to grip the nation, President Barack Obama has declared the influenza outbreak a national emergency. The disease is rampant in 46 states and death toll has surpassed 1000.
The annual death toll from flu is ~36,000. Swine flu has killed over five (binary) orders of magnitude fewer people than the "regular" flu. I thought a national emergency was for things like the Korean War, which coincidentally also saw around 36k US and allied troops die. Is this 'emergency' designation because things are still credibly expected to be worse than they currently are, or is this CYA from the White House, or is this just bullshit?



In other flu shot news:
EconLog | Arnold Kling | Data and Dogma

Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer write,
Jackson's findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the "frail elderly" didn't or couldn't. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all.
A basic lesson in AP statistics concerns the differences between an observational study and an experiment. There is a well-known finding that people who get flu vaccinations have lower death rates than people who do not. But this finding is not based on an experiment. It is instead based on observation of people who choose to get shots and people who do not. My hypothesis is that people who get flu shots are more conscientious than people who do not, and more conscientious people have lower death rates. Whatever the reason, the article cites research where what economists would call "natural experiments" show that flu shots do not affect death rates.
I'm not a flu shot guy. I don't actually know if that's is empirically justified or not, but that's where I stand. Admittedly it's a small sample, but all three times I've had a flu vaccine I've gotten quite sick immediately afterward. Perhaps I will re-evaluate when I have munchkins living in my home, or if I live long enough to become elderly and frail. (That is, if Science hasn't made oldness and frailness obsolete by then. Get cracking, Aubrey de Grey!)

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