Archive for the ‘Personal Responsibility’ Category

Jury Duty

November 14, 2011

So, I pulled jury duty for Hennepin Country, and today I’m starting a two-week term of service. I was originally on the call-in list, but I guess Hennepin County is feeling a might criminally and civil complainty this month because our group was called in on Day 1. Now we’re no longer on the call-in list; we’re in the active pool. This means I have to show up to the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis and report to the Jury Assembly room (or a courtroom) every. day. for the next 10 business days.

But – there is no court on Thanksgiving or the day after Thanksgiving (thank FSM that my Black Friday consumerism won’t be hindered by a sense of court-ordered social obligation!), and being on jury duty is a pretty easy gig.

I show up, check in, and then lounge around in a comfy room with comfy chairs. There are lots of tables, electrical outlets and pretty decent WiFi, which means that I can use the internet and charge my phone and laptop throughout the day. There is *nothing* to do if I’m not actively on a jury panel – and I mean that in the best way possible. I can read, play online (maybe catch up on some of my 2,626 twitter favorites that I’ve got racked up), play games on my phone or iPod, listen to music, watch movies or TV on my laptop, talk on the phone, and I can eat or drink in here. They also have a TV room and office. I could even pull up work email and documents if I run out of other amusements!

Missing work is the only part that is frustrating. I’m in the middle of a couple of big projects, and while work is understanding, there are still things that I need to get done in the next two weeks. Which means I’ll end up doing work at home and possibly have to go in on the weekend to play catch-up. Ah well, it’s a good job; I enjoy…hrm…perhaps that’s too strong… I *appreciate* what we’re doing and it’s worth it.

So, I may be around the interwebs a bit more than usual in the next two weeks. Say hi! And if you’re downtown (I’m looking at you Heidi and Alicia!) and want to catch lunch, I do get noon-1:30pm free if I’m not assigned to a panel.

Let the court-imposed sort-of vacation begin!

Delta Airs Anti-Vax Advertisement

November 4, 2011

I haz a sad.

I like flying Delta. There’s a huge hub here in Minneapolis. I have the Delta SkyMiles card so I can rack up points and fly places for free (well, freeish, but that’s another post), and I’ve generally had very good experiences on Delta flights.

So, I was sad when I saw this in my Twitter stream yesterday:

It turns out that Delta and In-Flight Media are presenting a nearly three-minute ad that trivializes the flu and tells the audience that:

  1. You don’t have to worry about preventing the flu – FALSE.
  2. Most illnesses that present with flu-like symptoms are not the flu – TRUE.
  3. Washing your hands is a good way to help you stay healthy. – TRUE.
  4. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze is a good way to minimize spreading germs – TRUE.
  5. Drink water to keep your body hydrated – TRUE.
  6. Get the right amount of sleep and reduce stress levels to decrease your chances of getting sick – PROBABLY TRUE.
  7. Vitamin C and D – found in nutritious food  – are effective, natural preventatives – FALSE.
  8. Regular exercise helps keep your immune system strong. – TRUE.
  9. The flu shot is an option. Research the different types of flu vaccines your doctor may recommend. SURE, WHY NOT?

Who would advocate against being an informed consumer? I applaud people who are willing to research their health care options. But, when considering the source (psst – it’s one of the country’s biggest anti-vaccine organizations), and considering the place that they direct you to research flu vaccines (psst – It’s their hugely anti-vaccine propogranda-laden website filled with misinformation about all sorts of vaccines), the little alarm bells in your head should start to ring, buzz, sing, or talk – whichever you’ve got your alarm set to.

Elyse Anders – the president of the  Women Thinking Free Foundation and driver behind the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated Campaign brought this story to my attention via her article on Skepchick.org. Elyse has a list of things that you can do to help protest to Delta and the associated organizations that are allowing this ad to run.

  1. Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition. Add your name to those of us who would like Delta to remove the advertisement. Change.org works, and it’s an easy way to make your voice heard.
  2. Tweet: “#fludelta @DeltaAssist @Delta If you’re so concerned about safety, stop running potentially deadly anti-vaccine ads http://wp.me/pbblq-6qu
  3. Facebook/YouTube: Add your comments about the video here. The content has been removed from Facebook, but you can still see it on YouTube. The owner, In-Flight Media, has disabled commenting, but you can still downrate it.
  4. Share Elyse’s post on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Tell your friends and family about the campaign and get them involved!

The last time Elyse was involved in a campaign against vaccine misinformation advertisements by this group placed in Times Square, the ads were pulled. With all of our help, hopefully we can make it happen again!

Time for your flu shot!

October 19, 2011

I got my flu shot yesterday. Have you gotten yours yet?

This time of the year is becoming a bit of an annual tradition for the Biodork blog: The posting of Dr. Mark Crislip’s A Budget of Dumb Asses. Dr. Crislip wrote A Budget of Dumb Asses to answer some of the most popular excuses that people often give for not getting the annual flu vaccine.

In 2010, Dr. Crislip added a bit of a caveat – he says that this list is specifically directed to health care providers, and not at patients. Perhaps it wasn’t P.C. for Dr. Crislip to be calling patients dumb asses; I don’t think he’s had qualms about that in the past. But listen up: I don’t care if you work in health care or not – the reasoning below is sound. If you glance through the list and see a phrase that you’ve uttered as an excuse for not getting vaccinated then you need to keep reading.

So, off you go to to the 2011 edition of A Budget of Dumb Asses

I wonder if you are one of those Dumb Asses who do not get the flu shot each year? Yes. Dumb Ass. Big D, big A. You may be allergic to the vaccine (most are not when tested), you may have had Guillain-Barre, in which case I will cut you some slack. But if you don’t have those conditions and you work in healthcare and you don’t get a vaccine for one of the following reasons, you are a Dumb Ass.

1. The vaccine gives me the flu. Dumb Ass. It is a killed vaccine. It cannot give you the influenza. It is impossible to get flu from the influenza vaccine.

2. I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine. Irresponsible Dumb Ass. I have never had a head on collision, but I wear my seat belt. And you probably don’t use a condom either. So far you have been lucky, and you are a potential winner of a Darwin Award, although since you don’t use a condom, you are unfortunately still in the gene pool.

3. Only old people get the flu. Selfish Dumb Ass. Influenza can infect anyone, and the groups who are more likely to die of influenza are the very young, the pregnant, and the elderly. Often those most at risk for dying from influenza are those least able, due to age or underlying diseases, to respond to the vaccine. You can help prevent your old, sickly Grandmother or your newborn daughter from getting influenza by getting the vaccine, so you do not get flu and pass it one to her. Flu, by the way, is highly contagious, with 20% to 50% of contacts with an index case getting the flu.  However, Granny may be sitting on a fortune that will come to you, and killing her off with the flu is a great way to get her out of the way and never be caught.  That would make a good episode of CSI.

4. I can prevent influenza or treat it by taking echinacea, vitamin C, oscillococcinum or Airborne. Gullible Dumb Ass cubed then squared. None of these concoctions has any efficacy what so ever against influenza. And if you think oscillococcinum has any efficacy, I would like you to invest in a perpetual motion machine I have invented.  None of the above either prevent or treat influenza. And you can’t “boost” your immune system either. Anyone who suggests otherwise wants you money, not to improve your health.

5. Flu isn’t all that bad of a disease. Underestimating Dumb Ass. Part of the problem with the term flu is that it is used both as a generic term for damn near any viral illness with a fever and is also used for a severe viral pneumonia. Medical people are just as inaccurate about using the term as the general public. The influenza virus directly and indirectly kills 20,000 people  (depending on the circulating strain and year) and leads to the hospitalization of 200,000 in the US each year. Influenza is a nasty lung illness. And what is stomach ‘flu’? No such thing.

6. I am not at risk for flu. Denying Dumb Ass. If you breathe, you are risk for influenza. Here are the groups of people who should not get the flu vaccine (outside of people with severe adverse reactions to the vaccine): Former President Clinton, who evidently doesn’t inhale. Michele Bachmann. Wait, that’s the HPV vaccine.  And people who want to be safe from zombies. If you don’t get the vaccine you do not have to worry about the zombie apocalypse, because zombies eat brains.

7. The vaccine is worse than the disease. Dumb Ass AND a wimp. What a combination. Your mother must be proud. Unless you think a sore deltoid for a day is too high a price to pay to prevent two weeks of high fevers, severe muscles aches, and intractable cough.

8. I had the vaccine last year, so I do not need it this year. Uneducated Dumb Ass. Each year new strains of influenza circulate across the world. Last year’s vaccine at best provides only partial protection. Every year you need a new shot.

9. The vaccine costs too much. Cheap Dumb Ass. The vaccine costs less than a funeral, less than Tamiflu, and less than a week in the hospital.

10.  I received the vaccine and I got the flu anyway. Inexact Dumb AssThe vaccine is not perfect and you may have indeed had the flu.  More likely you called one of the many respiratory viruses (viri?) people get each year the flu.  Remember there are hundreds of potential causes of a respiratory infection circulating, the vaccine only covers influenza, the virus most likely to kill you and yours.

11. I don’t believe in the flu vaccine. Superstitious, premodern, magical thinking Dumb Ass. What is there to believe in?  Belief is what you do when there is no data. Probably don’t believe in gravity or germ theory either. Everyone, I suppose, has to believe in something, and I believe I will have a beer.

12. I will wait until I have symptoms and stay homeDangerous Dumb Ass.  Despite often coming to work ill, especially second year residents, about 1 in 5 cases of influenza are subclinical, hospitalized patients are more susceptible to acquiring influenza from HCW’s than the general population,  and 27% of nosocomial acquired H1N1 died. And you wil never realize that you were the one responsible for killing that patient by passing on the flu.

13. The flu vaccine is not safe and has not been evaluated for safety.  Computer illiterate Dumb Ass.  There are 1342 references on the PubMeds on safety of the flu vaccine, and the vaccine causes only short term, mild reactions.  All health care requires weighing the risks of an intervention against the benefits. For the flu vaccine all the data suggests huge benefit for negligible risk. And as a HCW, it could be argued that we have a moral responsibility to maximize the safety of our patients.

14. The government puts tracking nanobots in the vaccine as well as RFID chips as part of the mark of the beast, and the vaccine doesn’t work since it is part of a big government sponsored conspiracy to keep Americans ill, fill hospital beds, line the pockets of big pharma and inject the American sheeple with exotic new infections in an attempt to control population growth and help usher in a New World Order. Well, that excuse is at least reasonable. Paranoid Dumb Ass.

So get the vaccine.  And pass this essay on to someone else.  The life you may save may be your own. Or be a Dumb Ass.

And if you and yours are admitted to the hospital or visit a HCW during the flu season, ask if your provider has had the vaccine. If not, ask for a new provider.  Who wants their health care provided by a Dumb Ass?

Boston SlutWalk 2011

May 18, 2011
I am very, very excited to introduce a guest post by Jo O. All words and photos are hers, and have not been edited from her original submission. For more of Jo’s photos from the Boston SlutWalk, please visit her BostonSlut Walk set on Flickr.
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Last Saturday I attended the Boston SlutWalk, one of many satellite walks affiliated with the Toronto SlutWalk held in early April. The original SlutWalk was organized in response to a statement made in January by a Toronto police officer during a campus safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School where he stated “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Although he eventually issued an apology, organizers of the Toronto SlutWalk were not deterred, stating that police failed the citizens by allowing this culture of slut-shaming to enter the ranks of those sworn to serve and protect. “With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed.” And it’s not just Toronto Police that are the problem, which is why this message grew from a small group of people who heard the insensitive comment to the launch of satellite walks in London, Boston, Dallas, and many other cities (including Minneapolis on August 6th).

The belief that a woman’s choice of clothing could cause a man to lose control of his sexual urges is absurd and offensive to men and women alike. But this attitude exists everywhere, from the professionals to whom we report a crime to the communities expected to provide support. When an 11-year old girl was gang raped in Cleveland, Texas, the New York Times article about the case highlighted just how skewed some people’s views of the situation were. Interviews with residents familiar with the victim and the attackers focused on the fact that the victim “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” as well as concerns about how the young men involved would “have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

Admittedly, I’ve harbored similar prejudices in the past, which is why I came out for the Boston SlutWalk. It’s easy to say that under no circumstances is rape acceptable, but it’s more difficult to quiet that voice in your head that asks inappropriate questions that don’t matter, like “what kind of reputation does she have?” or “what was she wearing?” When I told a friend of mine I was going to this event, he asked me if I thought a man wearing a Rolex or flashing a wad of cash should be surprised when he gets mugged. It stumped me for a second, until I thought about how sad it is to assume that an expensive trinket in someone’s hand would cause everyone in the vicinity make a grab for it or that seeing a little cleavage would suddenly turn any man into a sex-crazed animal. It assumes that every person out there is a potential attacker, a likely thief or a possible rapist. It also wrongly puts fault on the victim, when the blame should always fall squarely on the shoulders of the actual perpetrators of violence.

In the build up to the event, people questioned why a SlutWalk was being held in Boston. Did we really want to take back the word “slut” anyway? Did we want to advocate slutty behavior? Was this really the message we want to send to the children spending a nice day in the park with their parents? The true message was obvious at the event, when two thousand people, young and old, male and female, gay, straight, bi, and transgendered all came together in Boston to say we would not tolerate slut-shaming or victim-blaming anymore.

As Jaclyn Friedman said during her speech, “It ends because there is truly nothing, NOTHING you can do to make someone raping you YOUR fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong, and dirty, and bad, and yes very, very unsafe, when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of.”

Jaclyn Friedman at Boston SlutWalk 2011

The SlutWalk wasn’t just about one stupid statement made by a cop. It is a response to the skewed way society looks at victims of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter how many sexual partners a person has or what they like to wear, rapes happen because a rapist is around. The SlutWalk is a call for people to stand up together and say I’m not ashamed of liking sex, I’m not ashamed of the way I choose to dress, and I will stand up against anyone who suggests a victim of rape was “asking for it.”

Should We Allow a Leap of Faith?

February 17, 2011

Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe posted last week about a gentleman’s decision to make a leap of faith. A literal leap of faith. From this rock formation:

Image source

On December 21, 2012 Mr. Peter Gersten plans to hurl himself off of Bell Rock in Sedona, AZ. It is his belief that a cosmic portal will open at this time and in this place, and that he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity. He is fully willing to die if he is wrong about the portal.

Regardless of how we feel about Mr. Gersten’s beliefs, are we willing to let him die if he is wrong about the portal?

It is not a crime to commit suicide in the United States, but one can be committed involuntarily for psychological evaluation and treatment if one is deemed to be a danger to him or herself, i.e., makes his or her intention to commit or attempt to commit suicide known.

Our current understanding of the universe would suggest that Mr. Gersten has a very small chance of being correct about a cosmic portal opening when he takes his leap of faith. Given what we know of our world, we can assume that Mr. Gersten has a very high probability of killing himself. We might say it’s suicide.

So should we allow him to take this leap of faith, or should he be committed?

As a supporter of civil liberties I want to believe that Mr. Gersten should be allowed to do any dumbass thing that he likes as long as he doesn’t take anyone else with him or inconvenience others unduly. We allow people to do dumbass, life-threatening things all the time. If you want to risk death in a selfish endeavor, such as attempting to tightrope between two skyscrapers, raft down the rapids in March on the fresh thaw, climb Mount Everest, run across Death Valley, more power to ya.  And we won’t just cheer you on, we’ll send TV crews and journalists to livecast your attempt because secretly we’re all hoping you’ll slip on the tightrope, fall into the chilly swirling water, get buried in an avalanche or collapse from heat stroke 20 feet from the finish line. Then of course we want you to muster superhuman strength and catch your balance, climb back in the raft, dig your way out of the snow, or regain consciousness and drag yourself across the finish line to where an ambulance is waiting to restore you. And then we’ll go out and buy your autobiography and our kids will talk about how they want to be just like you!

But I digress.

Assisted suicide is illegal in 48 of 50 states (Oregon and Washington, since you were curious). If we allow Mr. Gersten to attempt his leap of faith, are we his partners in (non?)crime?

And even if we say no, that this is not a crime, that indeed Mr. Gersten should be allowed to pursue his ambition…who the heck is paying for clean up if he’s wrong? I’m not being facetious; If the portal doesn’t open up, rescue workers are going to have to climb Bell Rock to clean up bits of Mr. Gersten wherever they may land, possibly endangering their own lives in the process. And Mr. Gersten, having left this world by very natural means having nothing at all to do with cosmic portals, is going to be leaving us the tab. Hmmm…should we allow him his leap of faith if he were to find volunteers and money to fund clean up in the event that he is wrong?

Or – as one of the commenters at Bad UFOs pointed out – should we just ask him to bring a damn parachute?

Merging Traffic

December 9, 2010

Today I would like to discuss merging traffic.

I think that when two lanes merge together on a highway, people should be adults – take turns, watch the road, adjust speed accordingly so that everyone is able to make a smooooth transition without causing traffic to halt.  

Yeah, right.  So here’s the situation:

There’s an area in the Minneapolis metro called the Crosstown.  In the past couple of years there’s been a lot of construction to make the area around one historically horrendous intersection (that of 35W/62) better, and it IS.  My complaint isn’t with that area, but with the other end, the area where 62 Eastbound merges with 212 North and 62 Eastbound.

All Crosstown commuters know this spot.  The highway here narrows down from two lanes to one.  For some reason (or more likely multiple, individual reasons) most people line up in the right lane – the lane into which all traffic eventually merges.  There are a few people who (again, probably for multiple, individual reasons) speed along in the left lane until the last possible minute and then merge when the left lane disappears.

I admit to being a passive driver in this situation.  I get in line and usually crawl forward for about five minutes until I’ve passed the merge and then traffic starts to flow again.  I say that I “admit” to be a passive driver, because I think the speeders are in the right; they’re moving forward in an open lane and then merging, just like they’re supposed to do.  

But not everyone feels this way, and I’m nervous about the Right Lane Road Ragers.

Remember, most people line up in the right lane, thus avoiding having to be active mergers.  I think that the mindset for the Right Lane Road Ragers is that we in the right lane have the “power”;  we get to allow people to merge with us because we’re already where we’re supposed to be, right?  And gosh darn, we waited in line – we waited our turn, so no speedster is gonna zip up the left lane and merge in front of me!  ‘Cuz I waited my turn!

Ugh.  It’s so stupid.

Right Lane Road Ragers try to punish the mergers.  One popular punishment is riding bumper-to-bumper in the right lane.  This blocks the merging traffic and forces them to come to a stop when the left lane ends.  The problem with this ploy is that the mergers never stop.  They are a hardier, ballsier breed and they will force their shit into the right lane, causing all of us to stop.

Another popular punishment is riding the line, or out-and-out blocking the the left lane waaay before the left lane ends.  I snapped a photo of a particularly bad example of this a couple of days ago:

See the space in front of the SUV in the left lane?  There’s probably a good half-mile stretch before that lane ends.  This incredible, Self-Righteous Jerk decided to take it on himself/herself to completely BLOCK the left lane.  He/She went exactly the same speed as the right lane traffic for the entire distance from here to the merge, ignoring the sustained honks, the aggressive attempts to move around on the left or right side, the hand-gesturing and yelling.    

What happened is the people in the left lane did some incredibly stupid and dangerous stunts to retaliate and/or just get around him.  One guy did this:

My drawing skills suck, so to sum up: Dude in pink who was being merge-blocked whips to the right, drives between two cars in the right lane, speeds up the shoulder, whips between two more cars so that he’s now in front of Self-Righteous Jerk.  Dude in pink proceeds to SLAM ON HIS BRAKES, flips the Self-Righteous Jerk the bird, screams something over his shoulder, then speeds away.

Truly, podcasts cannot compete with this sort of freeway entertainment. 

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So, what am I saying here?

First – everybody STFU and calm down.  Download some soothing Celtic Moon new age-y, Waves on the Beach calming stuff and relax.  Or play some jazz or happy bubblegum pop, death metal, experimental hip hop techno goth punk rock choral arrangement…whatever puts *you* in that nice, peaceful My Fellow Human Beings Deserve My Attention and Respect And Really We All Just Want To Get Home So Let’s Work Together Here mindset (MFHBDMAARARWAJWTGH is the name of my REM cover band*).

Second – Let people merge, you bastards!  When you try to punish people who you think are in the wrong, you cause accidents or attention-grabbing kerfuffles, and that slows all of us down.  Dadgummit, it’s a merge lane, so let people merge!

Third – Isn’t there an entire branch of civil engineering that deals with this kind of situation?  Can’t we get some signs or a campaign teaching people how to use a merge lane?  Reducing the gas consumption, wear-and-tear on the roads, environmental impact from traffic jams, and increasing the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate efficiently through the city…wouldn’t these be great problems for a civil engineer to solve and put on their performance review plan for 2011?  Go team go!

Yeah.

So…I think that’s about it. 

Have a nice day and a safe, uneventful, merge-positive drive home.

*reference for all you non-P&S nerds

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Update:  One of the commenters, Senja, called this type of merge a “zipper merge”.  I propose that the “Lane ends, merge right” sign be replaced with the following: 

You’re welcome.

Anti-Vax Action Alert

November 21, 2010

Elyse over at the Skepchicks posted a notice about anti-vaccination advertisements being aired in several AMC movie theaters across the country.  And guess what – one of them is happening right here in Roseville, Minnesota.  Here’s the ad they’re planning to play:

One Minnesota pediatrician has written an concise response to the advertisement, and has made it SUPER EASY for your to add your voice to the cause, as well. If you visit AMC Corporate Customer Service and you agree with Dr. Jacobsen, you can simply click a button that says “I have this problem too” to speak out against fallacious anti-vaccination rhetoric.  There is also a place to add comments to share your own thoughts with AMC. 

This is not a free speech issue; no one is saying that AMC doesn’t have a right to air these ads. This is a misinformation issue.  This is a Let’s Scare The Crap Out of Pregnant Women issue. As one commenter wrote:

AMC has every right to run these ads. I; however, will go out of my way to not support any company that runs anti-vax campaigns.

As with any controversial topic, take a minute to critically consider the arguments. I happen to believe that not vaccinating against the flu is selfish, dangerous decision. If not for you personally, then for the vunerable people around you (old people, immunosuppressed people, babies too young to receive the vaccine) who may catch flu from you. The flu isn’t just an inconvenient achy, sick-feeling cold thing from which everyone can bounce right back  – people die of the flu, and encouraging fear of vaccinations is a public health danger that we should not condone.

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Quick update from the road: AMC will NOT be running the anti-vax advertisement AMC will not be running the anti-vax advertisements!. 2344 people have weighed in at last check. Skeptical activism at work, well done!

Best PSA ever

September 22, 2010

I dare you not to choke up – I double dog dare you.

Thanks to Toward a Moral Life for introducing me to this video.

Daily Comics Strips

September 6, 2010

Reading the daily comics is one of my routines.  I like comic strips because they’re allowed to be absurd but they can also say a lot about life, the universe and everything – often in one to four tiny squares of art and writing.  These two from Friday’s Star Tribune caught my eye (click to enlarge):

Luann

Luann

I’m going with Dad on this one – women don’t need to cut down men in the pursuit of equality!  But song can be a a form of emotional expression – the message doesn’t have to be fair.

But we do have the option of reaching over and changing the station if we don’t like the message!

Jump Start

Jump Start

Yay!  Thank you little dude in the white shirt and red tie.  There are always jobs out there, but they may not come to your front door to hand you a coffee and drive you to the office.  Hell, sometimes they may flip you the finger, make you jump through hoop after hoop and then graciously allow you to bust your ass as a temporary contractor (says I from multiple personal experiences).  There are tons of reasons why people who want to work are unemployed at one time or another, and in many cases it’s not the unemployed person’s fault.  But, it’s almost definitely (probably) not President Obama’s fault either.

Vaccines are pretty cool.

August 13, 2010

Forget cool, vaccines are awesome!  Sure, vaccines can help individuals protect themselves against preventable diseases, but even more importantly, vaccines can slow and sometime stop the spread of disease in populations

Some people cannot receive some vaccines due to allergies or conditions that counterindicate vaccination.  Some people choose to not get vaccinated out of fear and ignorance of the science and safety of vaccines.  Some people are outside of a vaccine’s intended use age range – i.e., they’re too young or too old to be vaccinated for a particular disease.  And some people don’t know (or remember) that booster shots are required for some vaccines, and that without these boosters they lose the protection conferred by the original vaccination over time.

By being vaccinated when you’re able, you are volunteering to be one brick in a wall that keeps disease away from those who are not – for whatever reason – vaccinated.  The taller the wall and the fewer holes that are in that wall means disease has less of a chance to get through to those unvaccinated individuals and groups who are hanging out behind our wall.

When there are chinks in the wall, there’s a a chance for infection to spread.  Healthy non-vaccinating people who are exposed to a preventable disease may suffer a minor illness, but in turn they might expose elderly, infant or immunocompromised people who may experience a much more severe reaction to the infection. 

I admit that this past winter was the first time I received the seasonal flu shot (I also received the H1N1 shot).  I was of the opinion that I’d rather take my chances of having a run-in with the flu “in the wild” than to knowingly put flu virus in my body and possibly get sick that way.  Also, the flu virus is constantly evolving, and I thought that the chances of being vaccinated for the particular strain I might be exposed to was a little like playing the lottery.  Well guess what?  It turns out virologists and people who make vaccines actually know a little something about virology and making vaccines.* 

This is the experience – The Moment! – that lead me to learning more about vaccination:  Around May of last year I had a friend tell me that she hadn’t immunized her children because vaccines weren’t safe.  I asked her how she’d feel if her kid got sick, or got sick and spread something around their school, and she told me something to the effect of  “Oh, she won’t get sick because everyone else in the school gets vaccinated; we claimed an ethical exemption.  And because everyone else is vaccinated, even if she were to get sick she couldn’t spread it to any of them.” 

To quote an internet meme:

Seriously?????  I asked her what if other parents also claimed an ethical exemption.  Her response was, “That’s really unlikely.”

Facepalm. 

It was around this time that I discovered Dr. Mark Crislip and the ScienceBasedMedicine blog, and I ran across Dr. Crislip’s A Budget of Dumb Asses, in which he describes 10 fallacious arguments for not getting the seasonal flu shot.  A Budget of Dumb Asses was a bit of a revelation and turning point for me; it blends sarcasm, mockery and critical thinking, and most importantly it influenced me to change my personal stance on the importance of getting vaccinated for the seasonal flu.

So in the past year I’ve become a big supporter and a bit of a nerd about vaccination.  I’d also consider myself an anti-anti-vaxer.  I try to keep my eyes and ears open for news about vaccine controversy and the anti-vaccination efforts here in the US and across the world.

Here are a couple of recent vaccine and flu stories that recently caught my eye:

Pertussis (whooping cough), is a prime example of a disease that requires booster doses – every 10 years for adults – to maintain immunization.  In this clip a reporter from CNN explains why.  There is a news article associated with the clip, and below is one of my favorite quotes, because I believe Dr. Shu captures the essence of why anti-vax movements prosper:

Young parents today have probably never seen illnesses such as whooping cough, so for them it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” Shu said.

“When you don’t see kids getting sick regularly because the vaccines are doing so well, then you kind of think that kids aren’t at risk for them,” Shu said. “But if we drop our guard, they are.”

Of course the most amusing and distressing part of any article about vaccination is the comments section, where the morons and the people arguing with the morons (sometimes mornons themselves!) duke it out.  Note how I didn’t assign “moron” to any particular viewpoint…there are definitely morons on both sides of this issue. 

A newsclip featuring Elyse Anders from Skepchick speaking about her one of her favorite topics:

And finally, an brief NPR story from this past Tuesday about the end of the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic as declared by the World Health Organization.  The end of the pandemic, people, not the end of H1N1.  From WHO:

Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come.

So listen up this fall and winter and make sure to get vaccinated as recommended by your doctor, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

*Flu virus in vaccine is dead virus and can’t give one the flu.  Regarding strains and how “they” choose which strains to include in the annual vaccine, see these paragraphs from the CDC on antigenic drift and shift.


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