Thursday, March 27, 2003

Uncertainty creates risk avoidance

There is a major vaccination program going on in the US among key workers in view of the threat of a terrorist attack using smallpox. However, it seems to me that people do not believe the government's assertion that this is even a remote possibility. Hence, the very minimal risks from the vaccine get blown out of all proportion. Here is a good example of how the obsession with risk makes the pursuit of policy very difficult.

The story, in the Washington Post, suggests the risk is low:

'Ten members of the armed services -- out of 350,000 immunized -- have been treated for inflammation in and around the heart, a condition known as pericarditis or myocarditis, said Col. John Grabenstein, who runs the military vaccination program. Every case was treated with pain relievers, and long-term damage is not expected, he said.'

One in 35,000 is a pretty low ratio. Surely some of these cases would have happened anyway? Nonetheless, people with existing heart conditions may be excluded, while others have called for the over-50s to be excluded, too. Meanwhile, there is discussion of a compensation scheme for those affected by the vaccine. 'On Capitol Hill, lawmakers squabbled over the compensation bill. Democrats have said the White House offer to pay $262,000 in death or disability benefits and up to $50,000 in lost wages is insufficient.'

Cardiac Cases Raise New Vaccination Questions, Washington Post, 27 March 2003

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