The emotional epidemiology of influenza vaccination

That’s the title of an interesting editorial in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It’s interesting because how people think about, and act towards, an epidemic is in many ways as important as the medical aspects of the disease. So the emotional epidemiology is important

The H1N1 vaccine became a controversial subject, although not among medical scientists. There were some glitches in the vaccine supply, but these are easily explained by the lack of lead-time in vaccine manufacture. Generally the manufacturers get about a year to produce the next year’s vaccine; in this instance they only got half that time. The interesting thing is that, by the time the vaccine became available in large quantities, the same people who were clamoring for it in mid-2009 (and upbraiding the system for not have it ready) were now suspicious of it, even afraid of it.

Why did this happen? One culprit, of course, is the voracious 24 hour news cycle that demands extreme stories. The “swine flu plague” played right into that. Another is that we physicians lack an appreciation for “emotional epidemiology,” causing a subsequent lack of vigor in addressing influential, but misleading articles, such as this one. (This article has been demolished in many places, such as here specifically and here, more generally.)


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