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.
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…