November 5th, 2009 by Potato

In a recent post, I tried to explain that hysteria around vaccinations is uncalled for — they’re not perfect, complications do occur, but they’re generally much less risky and preferable to a pandemic. The idea that the government is out to get you with them is silly.

Ben raised the point about corporations being out to get you, and manufacture hysteria. Just so I don’t give corporations a free pass, let’s explore that idea. First off though, I’m going to say that I really doubt that the flu shot is the vehicle for a corporate takeover of the world. Even with big volume (trying to get 50%+ of the population vaccinated), vaccines aren’t a huge profit centre — governments place the orders and negotiate to shave profit margins, and vaccines by and large aren’t patent protected like many medications (i.e.: there is some competition, and they are not a product with retail markups).

Flu drugs taken after you get sick are a beast of a different nature. On the one hand, they seem like a miracle of modern science: long after we had a full spectrum of antibiotics to use, we still hadn’t developed terribly effective antivirals. On the other, this is where the corporate profits at the expense of the little guy story seems to take hold, if only a little. These drugs are of limited effectiveness (they won’t make your flu go away overnight), and the viruses can rapidly evolve resistance to them. They have a much worse risk profile than vaccines; though that’s not as important because you take them after you get sick. Cancelling that out is the fact that you have to take them so soon after you start displaying symptoms that there’s a high chance people who weren’t/wouldn’t be very sick (or who were running a fever for a non-pandemic flu reason) will be popping them anyway — or contrarily, people who are quite sick won’t get them because it’s silly to go to your doctor the first day after you get a cough.

They are very handy drugs to have stockpiled, especially to keep the front-line healthcare workers on their feet. But Canada purchased 55 million doses — or perhaps to keep the anti-corporate slant going, Canada was sold 55 million doses. A typical course is 10 doses, so that’s enough to treat 5.5 million people, 16% of our population, which IMHO is probably overkill. The figures I have say that in a typical flu season ~20% of the population gets sick; even if that’s more like 30% for H1N1 (even after the vaccination program), we’d have to have half those people see a doctor within a very short time after starting to have a fever, and be willing to take a fairly new-to-the-market medication (after all, these will likely be the people who didn’t want the vaccine). I just have a hard time seeing that happening. I think our government might have been too afraid to be seen doing too little to prepare, and was over-sold the antivirals (which is an easy pitch for the corporations to make in this environment), or was sold them for prophylactic use. Of course, some of those antiviral doses could ultimately be destined for 3rd-world countries as part of our foreign aid efforts, in which case over-stockpiling makes some sense.

The US government has about half as much per capita at the moment, but their stated goal is to have the reserves to treat up to 25% of their population.

Now, all this ranting about Tamiflu over-use is a little two-faced because unfortunately, Wayfare has come down with ILI (Influenza Like Illness — fever, coughing, body aches — they don’t bother to run the lab tests for H1N1 any more since according to the health unit, it’s the only strain of virus on the go at the moment). So, knowing the limitations of Tamiflu (having to start treatment early), we rushed off to the hospital even though she wasn’t that sick. She had a chest x-ray and was prescribed Tamiflu (as well as an over-the-counter sinus cleanser such as hydrasense — I thought those things were pure quackery at first, but apparently there is some belief that they help). Given how scary this strain of flu can be in young people, it seemed like a prudent thing to do. The government even gave us the Tamiflu for free!

As for me, I had my shot on Monday, but it takes 10-14 days to build up immunity, so I’ve got a small window here where she can infect me. I’ve just got to stay holed up in my office for another week…


One Response to “Tamiflu”

  1. wayfare Says:

    1. I did wait a day before going to the urgent care flu clinic, but I was still getting worse. If you’ve had pneumonia and pericarditis before you’d also be a bit nervous.

    2. The Hydrasense was to help with my sinus infection (I can’t believe how thorough they were with the workup – they also adjusted my asthma medication)

    3. If you say I’m not *that sick* one more time I’m going to lick your doorknob.