well, that didn't take long…

April 27, 2009

Conspiracy blogs are igniting with a warning from a Dr. Patricia A. Doyle about a swine flu vaccine that was tried during an influenza outbreak in 1976, telling readers not to take any vaccine that claims to prevent swine flu. The panicked article also goes into a variety of anti-vaccination clichs about how our bodies are “probably weakened by the dead virus fragments” and “various toxins,” as well as speculation that influenza vaccines could actually provide genetic components for even more sinister and potent diseases when the current strain of swine flu combines with genetic remnants of the vaccine.

biohazard symbol

Let’s start from the beginning. First of all, there was a pandemic scare in 1976 regarding a A/H1N1 strain for which most people would have no protection even after extensive immunization because it’s very different from the seasonal strains used for routine vaccinations. The pandemic never materialized but a potential vaccine was actually made. And herein lies the tiny kernel of truth in this story. There was an incident at Fort Dix and a number of cases deemed to be related to adverse reactions to a haphazard immunization effort. However, as noted by the CDC, there is no real, working vaccine for the prevention of swine flu and the government is still not sure it should order one to be made since it would take a long time to manufacture it and make sure that it works and works properly. So in short, there’s no vaccine to be afraid of. It doesn’t exist.

Secondly, the viruses used in flu shots are dead and inactive. Randomly combining parts of genetic code from dead influenza viruses that create a new strain and start triggering all sorts of diseases seem a tad unlikely. The adverse reactions mentioned above were cases 1,098 of Guillian-Barre syndrome which are thought to be the result of a potential bacterial contamination of egg cultures used for vaccine manufacture. Experts still don’t know for sure but the estimated risk of contracting GBS was 1 in 100,000 or 0.001% or so.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Doyle’s warning is the speed with which it spread and how so few of the sites which reposted it asked why a doctor in business administration is giving medical advice. Then again, this is the nature of a conspiracy theory in general. If you have a good, scary story, you’re probably going to get a free pass from the majority of your audience…

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on StumbleUpon
  • Not that woo-woo credentials *really* matter, but Ms. Doyle would appear to be a DVM (veterinarian) and PhD in Business Administration, i.e. not a people doctor. Is she talking about vaccinating pigs?

  • sidfaiwu

    Just in case you’re interested…

    I notice in many of your posts you link to websites that have content you object to. The problem is, linking to these loonies’ websites help their Google rankings. You can use the rel = “nofollow” option to prevent giving link-love to pages that don’t deserve it. http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569.

  • Greg Fish


    Her message originated from rense.com where she only identified herself as a PhD in Business Administration and claimed to have taken a nonexistent swine flu vaccine. Maybe she is a DVM but she didn’t identify herself as such? Then again, Patricia Doyle isn’t a very unique name and there may be hundreds of Dr. Doyles out there.


    “I notice in many of your posts you link to websites that have content you object to. The problem is, linking to these loonies websites help their Google rankings.”

    Actually, I think it would be unfair of me to narrow their reach with a “nofollow” instruction to the search engine crawler just because I disagree with them. But thanks for your suggestion.

  • It should never come as a surprise how quickly and easily the purveyors of human misery I call “conspiracy hypothesists” (not “theorists”, as theory implies evidence) jump on anything that comes along.

  • Rose

    Thank you for your post. I jumped on blogs today to follow the swine flu thing mostly because I’m interested in the evolution of viruses and how pandemics spread, only to run into dumbass conspiracy after dumbass conspiracy theory. Really, really stupid ones. Interesting science posts get replied to by dozens of raving lunatics proposing biogenetic warfare and curing the flu with silver nitrate (!!!). ARGH. Times like this, I hate people.