Protect yourself againt Swine Flu

  • October 30, 2009
{mosimage}As the great procrastinator Hamlet might have put it: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question.

With cases of H1N1 influenza (a.k.a. the Swine Flu) on the rise and deaths beginning to mount, millions of Canadians apparently remain unconvinced that immunization is necessary. Polls indicate that up to half the population either distrusts the evidence of an impending health crisis or doubts the safety of the vaccine and will not vaccinate. Health officials are ringing the alarm for a coming pandemic, but skeptics are seeing a hot-air balloon and a boy hiding in the rafters.
Besides putting a person’s own health at risk, refusing a free inoculation for a virus that is potentially fatal and highly contagious is selfish and even immoral. Widespread refusal of vaccination will, according to health officials, result in thousands of needless deaths and illnesses, increasingly destabilize an already under-funded and overworked health-care system and, as workers fall ill, further damage an economy struggling to escape recession.

Why such reluctance to vaccinate? Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Society has developed a general skepticism regarding pronouncements from government, science, business, media and even the church. We live in a world where the good deeds of the many are often tainted by the hyperbole, deception and cynicism of a few. In recent weeks we’ve learned of politicians squandering a billion tax dollars on consultants, businessmen swindling investors, respected news organizations falling for a hoax and a bishop betraying his flock.

So when governments join with science and the media to declare an impending health crisis, the warnings are questioned by many. Doubters claim government agencies are exaggerating the risk, or the science behind the vaccine is flawed, or pharmaceutical companies are padding profits, or the media is sensationalizing to boost ratings in a tough economy. A breach of trust has developed between authority and society that, in this case, could have deadly results.

According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, the risk of suffering serious side effects from the H1N1 vaccination are one in a million. Against that, if half the Canadian population refuses their shot, health officials expect millions to fall sick and thousands to die. Are the projections accurate? Who knows. But even reduced by half, the numbers are frightening.

As a society we share a fundamental moral responsibility to take every precaution to reduce the health threat, if not to protect ourselves then certainly to protect others. The H1N1 vaccine has been administered in several other nations with no noticeable ill effects. It’s our turn.

Yes, our democracy gives us a free choice in the matter. So we have a right to refuse. But as Christians called to love our neighbour it is an abuse of our God-given freedom to make choices that can harm others. Refusing inoculation has the potential to be such a choice.

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