Normally, I don’t go for the regular seasonal flu shot. That’s because I normally live alone, and so I am not normally at great risk of contracting the flu nor at risk of passing it on to others. But I think this time I should choose differently.
I have decided that I will get the H1N1 inoculation. I have found most of the objections and criticisms of the mass inoculation rather spurious: for instance, Canada’s supply is coming from a company in Australia, which is not owned by Donald Rumsfeld. And while it is certainly true that there are other more virulent diseases out there, such as AIDS, and while it is true that disease can be reduced by reducing poverty, or increasing the amount of green space in cities, nonetheless these are separate questions from the question of whether I myself should be inoculated. Sure, I want less poverty, and more parks, and so on, but I also want to be spared a deadly disease. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for transmitting it to anyone else, least of all the five new babies born to friends of mine in the last two years.
And sure, I want to see the corruption in our capitalist economy exposed and stopped, but if I refuse to take the H1N1 shot, I won’t really do anything to further that goal. All it will do is make me more vulnerable to the disease, and make me a potential carrier who could infect other people. And the money the government already spent to prepare the shot for me will have been wasted. By contrast, by taking the shot, I reduce the risk to me and to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other people who might pick it up from me: on city buses, in shops or workplaces, and so on. And most importantly, I demonstrate my moral and political support for Canada’s public health care system.
As it is, the public inoculation will likely spare 100,000 people an extended hospital visit, and prevent an estimated 10,000 deaths, and spare our public health care system the cost of caring for all of those people (a cost far greater than the cost of immunizing the whole country). That was the scenario described by Canada’s chief of public health, a few days ago, of what would happen if we did not immunize the country. Furthermore, the number of people who get ill from the shot itself is likely to be only two or three dozen people (not hundreds), out of thirty million. The stories of people getting sick from the inoculation tend to spread fast, because it’s exciting and scary news, and fits well into the world view of those already predisposed to distrust the government, or the drug companies, or various corporate interests. But I’ve never seen such a story coming from a clearly reputable source, such as a scientific report. I’ve only ever seen it come from scared individuals passing on chain email letters. That kind of source simply isn’t good enough for me.
In the end, I suspect that those who don’t want the shot are just people who don’t trust the government in general, or the big drug companies, and therefore must invent reasons not to trust what those institutions do, even when it is in their own best interest to reason otherwise. Perhaps some people think that the goal of getting the government out of their lives is worth the risk of death by influenza. But I don’t make my moral judgements in that utilitarian, radically individualist, and paranoid way.
Or, perhaps those who don’t want the shot are just people who get squeamish around needles. Well I’m squeamish around needles too. But I can swallow that fear long enough to get the shot, and thus potentially save a few people from dying, possibly including myself.
Here’s some information from much more reliable sources than chain-emails: