Yesterday, someone in my office made reference to the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the 1980s. For those of you who were not alive (or living in a cave) at the time, those ugly little dolls were everywhere, and everyone wanted one, to the point that there was mass hysteria at various retail stores. (Confidential to The Critter -- there may, one day, be a toy that elicits a similar degree of excitement while you are a small child. I urge you now to develop a sense of Buddhist peace in freeing yourself from worldly attachments, because there is no way on God's green earth that I am going within a country mile of a toy store under those circumstance.)

Anyhow, wanna guess what drew the comparison to her mind? H1N1 vaccines. They haven't arrived in our area yet, and a lot of people want them.

However, despite the urgings of the nation's public health officials, we are also seeing a lot of this (via the Times):
Anti-vaccinators, as they are often referred to by scientists and doctors, have toiled for years on the margins of medicine. But an assemblage of factors around the swine flu vaccine — including confusion over how it was made, widespread speculation about whether it might be more dangerous than the virus itself, and complaints among some health care workers in New York about a requirement that they be vaccinated — is giving the anti-vaccine movement a fresh airing, according to health experts.
I will give the Times credit for laying the reality on the line.
Web sites, Twitter feeds, talk radio and even elevator chatter are awash with skeptics criticizing the vaccine, largely with no factual or scientific basis. The most common complaint is that the vaccine has been newly formed and quickly distributed without the benefit of clinical trials; in fact, the swine flu vaccine was made using the same techniques as seasonal flu shots over the last two decades, and a small number of clinical trials were conducted this year to determine the adequate dose.

There are also claims that the vaccine contains adjuvants — sometimes added to make vaccines more effective — although they have not been used in this one. In addition, there is fear that the vaccine could lead to Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, as was suspected the last time a swine flu vaccine was distributed, in 1976; flu vaccines are now much purer than they were, minimizing the risk, and Guillain-BarrĂ© is far rarer.

(Well, OK. I don't know how that elevator chatter is sourced. But you get the idea.)

We're even seeing the appearance of some familiar characters:
Some anti-vaccine groups are also highly organized and quick to respond to openings to promote their message. For instance, this week, an 8-year-old boy from Long Island died roughly a week after receiving a swine flu vaccine, though officials from the New York State Department of Health denied a connection.

Almost instantly, on a memorial page on Newsday’s Web site for the boy, Sean Weisse, a message from an anti-vaccine advocacy group appeared: “We are so sorry to hear about Sean. My understanding, and forgive me if I’m wrong, is that this was a vaccine-related injury. If so, we would like to help you. Best regards, Stan Kurtz, Generation Rescue, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy’s Organization.”

I've written about Jim Carrey's know-nothing stance on vaccines before (at length), so I'm not going to repeat myself. (In a nutshell, Mr. Carrey is neither informed, nor honest about his lack of understanding of the science on his own group's website.) From a public health perspective, I would love to tell Mr. Kurtz where he can stick his best regards.

Since I'm a lazy, lazy man, instead of writing my own response, I will direct you over to Skeptical OB, who has done a lot of great writing lately about the H1N1 vaccine, and why it is so urgent that people get vaccinated as recommended. Given the increased risk from infection for pregnant women, it makes sense that an OB would take the issue so seriously. (While you're over there, you may as well check out her most recent post on breastfeeding, which complements my own philosophy on the subject.) She does an excellent job, in her various posts, explaining the science behind vaccination, and why the CDC has recommended the vaccines with such urgency.

The bottom line is this -- thus far, H1N1 has not been a particularly problematic strain of the virus, though it appears to be quite contagious. However, it is unpredictable whether the virus will mutate to become more virulent. Its novelty also means most of us have not already been exposed, and so there's not a lot of herd immunity. The anti-vaccination crowd, which is always more interested in promoting its agenda than paying much attention to science, doesn't much care about the effects of its voodoo scare-mongering. But you should.


  1. HA!!!!!!

    I have seen the look on your face when you hold the critter. There is NO WAY on earth that you would not travel half way around the country searching for the latest craze in toys and fight a hoard of angry people in order to bring home the next Cabbage Patch toy thing.

  2. PS... I can actually imagine you clawing & climbing over the poor and trodden to reach the counter.

  3. You can place your bets now, Anonymous, because there's always a chance that time will prove me wrong. But the flintiest corners of my soul are the ones that relate to the morals I want my kid to have. He cries until we cave on co-sleeping? Fine. Project Runway is on, and I'm too damn tired to figure out how to arrange him so he remains un-besmirched by the evils of television? He'll live.

    But I find it nauseating that parents would rather trample each other and behave like animals than teach their children that there are more important things than having The Latest Toy. It conflicts with the values that are truest and most important to me. Maybe I'll cave, but if I do, I will consider it a failure.

  4. "because there is no way on God's green earth that I am going within a country mile of a toy store under those circumstance."

    Rumor has it that that is the purpose of Grandparents.

  5. My mom refused to let me have a Cabbage Patch doll. I felt ostracized and ashamed. I then (swear on Peanut's health) *won* a Cabbage Patch doll in a drawing at Safeway. Loved her to pieces. Felt whole. Still have her.
    And yet I share your view wholeheartedly. Tickle Me Elmo my ass. Beenie Baby my ass. Snoopy Sno-cone Machine...well, probably. Cuz mama likes the sweet.
    P.S. On this post's main point, I agree that the H1N1 anti-vaccine crowd seems totally oblivious to the facts. I'm warily pro-vaccine, and refuse only a few. But the fact that this bad boy is so freaking contagious, and seems not to willingly mutate but to dominate all other viruses in its path, is pushing me where I never go---flu vax. I've never been high risk before, or so exposed on several fronts, so I'm getting it as soon as possible.)