"The boogeyman will get you!" parents sometimes tell misbehaving children. With about 40% of parents saying "no!" to vaccinating their kids for swine flu, apparently health officials think turnabout is fair play. And the media seem happy to help.
You see it in such headlines as "CDC Shocker: Swine Flu Killing Young People at Record Rate!" And in lines of panicked parents queued outside vaccine clinics like fans trying to score tickets to a Paul McCartney concert. And in schools closing willy-nilly, which could cost the nation tens of billions, according to a recent Brookings Institute study.
Which is so sad, because this boogeyman is not much more substantial than the legendary one. And adding the proverbial insult to injury, parents are told they must get their children vaccines that--because of the shortage and despite Obama administration promises--they can't get.
As told, the tale does sound scary. Almost a quarter of deaths from swine flu since Sept. 1 have occurred "in young people under the age of 25," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official Anne Schuchat declared at a press conference. Among cases of seasonal flu, those over 65 account for about 90% of deaths.
What Schuchat didn't say is that, as tragic as any child's death always is, in this case they merely represent a disproportionately larger slice of a very small pie. Very few people are dying of swine flu in any age category. Put another way, it's not that younger people are being slammed but that older ones are catching a break.
Hence among 65,000 college students afflicted with CDC-defined "flu-like illness" seriously enough to seek medical help, according to an American College Health Association running survey, there have been only 123 hospitalizations and zero deaths. That in turn reflects swine flu as a whole, which in the seven months since the outbreak began has apparently killed fewer Americans than normally die every two weeks from "ordinary" flu during the season.
But the CDC claims to have scary numbers as well as percentages, with 85 attributed swine flu fatalities under age 18 in the last two months, as of Oct. 30. By comparison, in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons there were 78 and 88 such deaths reported, respectively. Although it appears the epidemic has peaked, attributed child swine flu fatalities this season will eclipse them. But it probably won't mean much according to James Chin, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former World Health Organization epidemiologist.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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