A classmate asked the rest of us for opinions about the swine flu vaccine, and whether it is OK to get the kind that has mercury in it (as has been approved for use in Washington state). Here's my response posted to the class discussion board:
My beat as a reporter for several years (several years ago) was environmental news, and being on the East Coast, mercury was a major concern because of all the coal-fired power plants (when you burn coal, mercury is in the smoke), plus of course the mercury in fish. Mercury is dangerous, of course, but it's not that big of a deal, from what I could determine, for adults to consume small amounts of mercury, like by eating tuna sandwiches or salmon, or just by living on the East Coast. But there's a lot of concern about chronic — as in not just a shot, but eating fish week in, week out — exposure for kids (and pregnant women and babies).
I think the big question here is: Do you think the risk of getting the flu is a bigger concern than a shot that has mercury in it, administered once? That's a personal choice, not really a science question. And the big obstacle in getting useful information is that most of the reliable information comes from doctors and agencies that are mostly concerned with public health, not *your* health.
Here's a for-instance: There are about 50,000 people in this county. If 50 of them die this year of swine flu, it will be a major national news story (unless we are on the brink of a 1918-style pandemic, which seeing as how there's a vaccine I seriously doubt). But even if 50 people die, that leaves 99.9 percent alive, a pretty good chance you and I will make it.
To me, the reasons to vaccinate for flu are simple: If you have immune system problems or a vulnerable family member it makes sense. Otherwise? I'd say just go with your intuition.
I feel the exact opposite about vaccinations for polio, measles, rubellla and all those, however. I don't think those vaccines should be optional, and I would never consider skipping one. For what it's worth...