Too many people worry about the death rate from the swine flu. But it is the possible strain on our health system that is a worry. As discussed in this AP report, if 35% of the people get the swine flu (something seen in the last pandemic), that is over 100 million sick. The number that have to be hospitalized could be quite high, even if these people do not eventually die.
Overcrowding and poor triage could be a real worry.
But the ability of the hospitals to separate out the hundreds of thousands who need to be in the hospital from the 10s of millions who simply go to the emergency room could be very difficult. This is not an easy question under the best of circumstances, much less during a pandemic.
One important aspect of a useful vaccine is that it helps prevent the spread of a disease. Herd immunity is a very important aspect of any public health policy dealing with vaccines. If enough people are vaccinated, the spread of the disease is slowed down enough that even those who are not vaccinated can be protected.
It is difficult to know beforehand exactly what proportion of the population, or of specific sub-groups, would need to be vaccinated for full herd immunity effects to be seen. But even significant vaccination levels can slow things down.
Japan used to vaccinate all school children (who are a primary source for the spread of the illness) for seasonal flu. Death rates for all groups, including the elderly dropped. Even vaccination of 20-25% of a population can have significant effects on the overall rate of illness. The New England Journal of Medicine discussed the benefits, especially during a possible pandemic, almost 3 years ago, long before the swine flu was on anyone’s radar.
Vaccination can have huge effects, not only in health but in economic arenas. In Sweden, over 70% say they will be vaccinated. Probably less than half that say they will do so in the United States.
It is very likely that this pandemic will not result in shockingly high numbers of deaths but it will result in a lot of very sick people. The numbers could create major problems in our health system and could have severe economic effects.
Vaccination would make a strong impact on both of those areas. I plan on getting mine when it is available here.
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