I’m going to be honest.  I don’t really know how to write an introduction for this.  You all know the story by now.  H1N1 is going around and it is either a media creation or a harbinger of the apocalypse.  So I would like to apologize in advance if I am further flooding the blogosphere with this topic.  So I would like to warn you in advance.  This is a post about the H1N1 vaccine.  If you are tired of the topic please turn elsewhere.  I won’t be offended.

Recently the Centre for Disease Control decided to offer the vaccine, which is in limited supply, to the graduating classes and teachers of local and private schools.  As a teacher at an international school I was offered the choice to get vaccinated or not.   On Wednesday I decided to get the shot for a number of reasons.

Before I get going I should issue a quick but very important DISCLAIMER.  I would like to stress that I am a high school math teacher.  I am not in any way, shape or formed a trained medical practitioner.  As such please take my conclusions in this blog as nothing more than they are:  the ramblings of an opinionated man who Ryan trusts with some space on the internet and NOT as the professional opinions of an expert in the field of viruses or immunology.  I do not claim to know all of the facts on this issue, this is simply a collection of my own thoughts on the issue and I of course welcome the thoughts of others on this issue.

Why Are People Scared of Doctors Again? by hmerinox
Why Are People Scared of Doctors Again? by hmerinox

Reason #1:  My Doctor Told Me To Get it: The doctor at the local clinic who I visit frequently is someone who has helped me a number of times.  I go to the doctor infrequently, but I go there to seek her trained medical opinion (which as I stated above is something that I very clearly do not have).  And why would I ask her advice if I didn’t intend to take it?  She said that it was very safe and I fully trust her on that one.

Reason #2:  Simple Probability: Yes I know that H1N1 has a low mortality rate (although it is higher than “normal flu” in some places) and as a healthy 20-something male the risk of any serious problems from the disease are minimal.  But the risks of any serious problems from the vaccine are even lower.  Zero people have died from the vaccine and over 5000 people have died from H1N1 worldwide.  Last time I checked 0 is smaller than 5000.

A lot of people talk about the supposed connection that exists between autism and vaccinations but there have been 12 accredited peer edited studies that find no connection between autism and vaccinations.   For the VSD Chart on 9 of them click here.  The main article that brought this to people’s attention by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 2005 had multiple corrections issued, which are frequently ignored by people like Jenny McCartney and the rest of the anti-vaccination movement.

However, even if there was a link between vaccinations and autism, I am clearly too old to be getting it here.  So this can really be thrown out quickly.

(If you are curious, read An Epidemic of Fear by Amy Wallace in the October 19th edition of Wired Magazine, it summarizes a lot of the anti-vaccination stuff and is a very good read)

Reason #3:  Social Responsibility: This one requires a bit of personal context.

My uncle suffers from a very rare genetic disorder called Diamond-Blackfan Syndrome.  This particular condition limits his bodies ability to produce his own blood.  Now he has been able to lead a healthy life as the result of transfusions and other medical treatments.   One of the side effects of never having enough blood though is a reduced immune system.  So when I was young, I would always have to keep away from him whenever I was sick.  Even if I had the sniffles it would give him a much more severe effect.

Granted my uncle is all the way in Canada, but how many more people with reduced immune systems do we pass by on a regular basis?  How many times did my uncle get sick from someone not washing their hands before they touched a doorknob just before him?  How many times have I passed a disease onto a stranger even though I felt “fine”, how many times have they passed it onto another stranger, and another, and another….?

The truth is, given the exponential spread of disease, if we follow the path of our own germs chances are we have all indirectly lead to the death of someone else as a result of passing on the flu or any other disease which has the potential to be fatal to people.

Andy Barrie, a radio host for the CBC, stated this view in the Globe and Mail, in a much clearer and more accessible way than I could:  “It’s a little like second-hand smoke: if I decide to accept the danger of smoking, I’m imposing that decision on anyone who shares my space. Same with the vaccine. If I don’t get it, and get the flu, and give it to you, I’ve made the decision for both of us.”

The next best thing to the pig rap video at the airport by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
The next best thing to the pig rap video at the airport by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Reason #4:  Made in China (in a Good Way): A lot of the concern regarding this vaccine seems to be that it is made in China.  But the fact is Sinovac Biotech, the company that developed this vaccine, also developed the vaccine for SARS which has been credited with containing the spread of that disease.  Sure Chinese companies have made inferior or dangerous products (like the melamine incident a year ago), but this company seems to have a good track record.

Also, this vaccine was approved by the WHO and has been issued for export.  That means that it not only passes Chinese standards, but also it passes the standards of other countries and strict international standards.

Reason #5:  I Love a Good Conspiracy But….: I have heard so many strange conspiracies that involve all of the doctors and media personnel being bribed to go along with an unsafe vaccine.  This just doesn’t make sense to me, really how much money would it take to bribe hundreds of thousands of doctors in order to get them to go along with something like this?  Do you think that a company could recover those loses if they are selling the vaccine to the Chinese government who in turn are distributing it for free?

That doesn’t make dollars or sense.

Reason #6:  It Was Free: Probably should have said this earlier.  If I can get it for free, why the heck not?

Reason #7:  My Doctor Told Me To Get It (Reprise): Really what more information do we need than that?

Not only is my Doctor telling me to do it, but every doctor whose opinions I see or read says that I should do it.  Why would I believe them over some whacko’s blog or a former Playmate?


  1. Great post. I find it irritating that society is to the point where we now have people having to apologize or justify getting a vaccine.

  2. There is another very good reason for getting the vaccine. China is suppressing the number of deaths from H1N1 by about 100 fold. Up until last month, countries like India and the US had reported 800-1000 deaths from the disease. China claimed that there had been none in the PRC. It just defies all the scientific evidence, especially for a country with relatively low levels of hygiene, overcrowding and poor intensive care facilities for much of the population (this is something that kept the death toll down to less than 200 in tiny Australia during its flu season). China is having a huge wave of H1N1 right now and things are going to get worse before they get better. About 95% of people just get the flu, but in a country with a billion people, the number with serious life- threatening H1N1 respiratory illness is going to be in te tens of thousands, if not higher.

  3. Great post. I went to lunch yesterday with a friend and much of what we talked about was how America has gone soft, eschewing reality for whatever feels-good. We were talking mostly about the economy, but the Wired article (great article, BTW) fits in perfectly with our discussion. Whatever happened to science?

  4. I considered gettin the H1N1 vaccine….. But then I got H1N1…. Now there’s no reason for me to get the shot…..
    I kinda feel like I dodged a bullet (I HATE needles)… but I WAS pretty sick…..
    oh well….
    Thats my story

  5. It is interesting that so many people refuse to get vaccinated.

    This just underlines the fact that consumers distrust the pharm & medical industry. They see correlations between increasing rates of autism and the use of thiomersal-containing vaccines. Thiomersal is part mercury. Sometimes it is very easy to mistake correlation for causation as we have seen. But consumers also have seen that the American Food and Drug Administration has failed several times in the near past to regulate safe drugs. No wonder people distrust their doctors.

    I studied medicine and worked in health care for a couple years before coming to China to teach. You should know that some providers do not have time to critically analyze or think about medicine. They go on autopilot. Oftentimes they will tell patients what they themselves have been told by their peers, journals, and even pharmaceutical sales representatives (many of whom are hired for their beauty rather than their brains).

  6. My 2 cents on the topic, and Hong Mao’s comment in particular: Is the government “cooking the books” about swine flu? Anecdotal evidence only, sure, but there are things such as “proven track record”. Anyway, see “A tale of the swine flu” in China Economic Review
    H/t to Danwei, who introduced it as “Just take your Tamiflu and shut up!” It sums it up nicely.

  7. Fully agree with Matt M on this. Furthermore, how can you rely on official statistics about H1N1 casualties? Let alone do comparisons b/w countries. This being said I respect your choice.

  8. I was one of the original H1N1 cases in Korea back in May. I remember the hysteria over that disease and it nearly led to the shutdown of a large English school chain. Besides the xenophobia that was stoked, the lack of basic public education regarding epidemiology of the flu was astounding. There were those who actually thought that only foreigners could get H1N1, or that kimchi was a cure! I’m in China now and luckily am immune to the disease, but it is refreshing that the Chinese aren’t taking the initial Korean stance that it is a foreigner disease. I don’t think H1N1 is an actual emergency, it’s primarily a knee-jerk reaction to the under-reaction of SARS and the bird flu situations in years past. H1N1 is no better or worse than conventional flu. Although from a media perspective, it’s a “hot” story. If anyone want to read my interview with the Korea Herald I gave while I was detained, here’s a link: http://web.me.com/superacidjax/Sparkling_Chaos/Main_Page/Entries/2009/5/26_My_interview_with_the_Korea_Herald..html

  9. Pingback: Myth-making in China | Lost Laowai China Blog

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