The pharmaceutical companies control the legal system (Vaccine Court), the media (try watching any news program without getting bombarded by prescription drug ads), and the politicians ($29 million to Congress in 2008 and $176 million since 1990).
But are they losing the people?
Last Saturday morning my attention was drawn to a small article on the bottom right side of page 11 of my local newspaper. I'd later realize that the headline was even further downplaying the significance of the story. The headline read "Many Californians won't get H1N1 vaccination, poll shows."
I'd read similar articles in the past so I thought I'd be getting more of the same. I was wrong. A threshold has been crossed in my home state. In my opinion it should have been on the front page.
The article was taken from the Los Angeles Times (November 6, 2009) and had this as its lead paragraph. "As concern spreads about H1N1, a new survey of California voters found that while most consider the vaccine safe, a majority had no plans to get vaccinated."
STOP!!!! Did I just read that correctly? "A MAJORITY HAD NO PLANS TO GET VACCINATED"???? Isn't this the pandemic that President Obama declared a "national emergency" a few weeks ago?
I couldn't help but continue reading.
The survey questioned 1500 registered voters and was conducted as a joint effort between the Los Angeles Times and USC. "Only 5 percent of those polled said they had already been inoculated. Of the rest, 52 percent said they did not plan to get vaccinated."
The article became even more shocking as I continued.
"Of those polled, 70 percent said they think the H1N1 vaccine is safe for most people, while only 17 percent said there is a strong chance the vaccine is unsafe."
Okay, let's get this straight. 70 percent of the public thinks that the vaccine is safe for "most people." But 52 percent of the public has "no plans to get vaccinated." That means that lurking somewhere in the back of the collective mind of the majority of the public is the thought, "Hey, that vaccine might not be safe for ME!" As my friend the Stanford economist always points out, "If you want to know what people really believe, look at what they do, not what they say." And they're not rushing out to get vaccinated.
There was also this curious nugget of information. "The poll also found that blacks and Latinos are far more likely than other groups to say they believed the vaccine could be unsafe." Hmm, groups with a history of being lied to are less likely to believe people in positions of authority. I wonder why that would be? Maybe they're better at spotting lies?
The article reminded me of a recent exchange in the teacher lunch room of the school at which I work. Most of the teachers are ten to fifteen years younger than me and the issue of getting a flu shot came up. A few had gotten the shot, others hadn't, and people were going round the table with their plans.
I remained silent.
Finally one of the teachers looked at me and said, "Kent, I heard you have a pretty strong opinion about vaccines." I thought of the long-time friends I'd lost over this issue, the family members who have started emotional fights about our beliefs, my aged father who is still getting his yearly flu shots so that I can worry about Alzheimer's as one of the joys of his remaining years, and what has become an absolute silence from many of those I care most deeply about in regards to what has happened to my daughter. And there was another thought running around my brain. At my new school I was really starting to like these people. I didn't want to lose them as I'd lost so many others.
"I do," I replied, and went back to eating my sandwich.
A few seconds later I realized that everybody at the table was still staring at me. "Well, it's really a controversial issue," I stammered.
They kept looking. They wanted to know.
I laid it all out for them as best I could in the remaining minutes. The Vaccine Court, my own experience of having a daughter with seizures and autism, then watching my 18 month-old son begin the descent into autism after a pediatric visit in which the pediatrician gave him a full developmental work-up which he passed with flying colors, and my son's subsequent recovery through bio-medical intervention. They were riveted. A teacher gets a sense of his audience and they were looking at me as an expert, not a crack-pot.
As we were breaking up for lunch and I was giving the standard disclaimer that this was my opinion and they were entitled to their own, another teacher said it best. "My wife and I are considering having kids and we want to be educated. I want to know more."
I think I was hearing from a member of the new majority.
Kent Heckenlively is a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism