Sunday, November 8, 2009

Principe de Précaution Dinguo-Insensé

In the US, thieves are hijacking truckloads of swine flu vaccine because the stuff is in such demand. In France, only 19.3% of the population intends to get vaccinated, because la méfiance is so out of control that people are more afraid of the government than they are of the flu. Or something. Here we have an item for the French identity debate: Why are people in this country so afraid of cell-phone towers, genetically modified organisms, and swine flu vaccine yet perfectly willing to drive at 150 km/h on 1-lane country roads, ride bicycles in Paris, and consume triple-crème cheeses?


kirkmc said...

Yep. 25 years in this country and I remain perplexed by such oddly contradictory attitudes...

MYOS said...

Doctors themselves said the vaccine had not been properly tested! In any case, most people cannot have both the regular flu vaccine and the swine flu vaccine.
This would seem to indicate the type of vaccine available in France isn't the same my family's getting in the US, since they had no problem getting the regular flu vaccine too.

It should be noted that French people have no problem with regular vaccines so the fact swine flu has been hyped as the next plague is probably to blame: safety measures implemented everywhere without any problem in sight, tv messages every half hour, etc, created a state of "oh yeah, another one of those". Plus the news reported eagerly on any given case - I remember one case of kids at camp, they were seen playing volleyball with face masks. Hard to take that kind of illness seriously!

You can also look at it this way: anyone who gets the flu gets an immediate week at home.

Seriously: la société de défiance is an edifying read and one I find spot-on.

kirkmc said...

What serious doctors have said the vaccine has not been properly tested? It's the same as the regular flu vaccine, just with a different strain of flu.

Why wouldn't one be able to get both vaccines?

How about some scientific evidence for these theories?

MYOS said...

Most French people don't read serious medical journals, they get their news from TV or papers....
that's what I got from watching TF1, occasional F2 (where a 13h newscast's special guest developed the theory), etc. (late September-mid-October).
August, September: that Swine flu was super dangerous and you should wash your hands all the time.
I have yet to meet a Frenchman who's actually taking the ads seriously. I haven't met a person who didn't think they were an opportunity for a joke.

As to why one should not be able to get both vaccines: from my own doctor (same advice given to a bunch of colleagues who do NOT have the same doctor.)
Also heard on the radio (RTL).

MYOS said...

found an illustration of that principle: too much of a good thing - here= slogan/advice heard too many times is no longer heard at all

kirkmc said...

"Heard on RTL"? Seriously?

RoG said...

The obvious answer to your (maybe rhetorical question) is that the risks of the latter are known, those of the vaccines are not. And eating artisan-made unpasteurised cheese, riding a bike or driving at more than 50 mph count among the small pleasures of life.

DavidinParis said...

The answer to your query is quite simply, compared to getting vaccinated, riding bikes in Paris, eating cream and other things with 40% matteire grasse and driving fast are fun. Not justifying this, but herein lies the of the few 'latin' traits that is redeeming to this expat.

Anonymous said...

The French have a healthy suspicion of government and as they have hyped the heck out of this swine flu, they naturally are wary. If doctors had quietly recommended the shot they probably would have trusted him/her in the situation. When I told my doctor that i didn't want to take the shot, he quickly recommended a homeopathic remedy/preventative to take instead.

Passerby said...

1. Why are people in this country so afraid of cell-phone towers

"Trust No One" attitude (imported from the US?). Fox Mulder was quite popular a few years ago.

2. Genetically modified organisms

"Trust No One" attitude (local). Fox-Jose Bové-Mulder was quite popular a few years ago.

3. Swine flu vaccine

Vaccine was developped in a hurry, reportedly with little clinical trials. On the news, it was said that about half the health professional refuse to get that shot.

4. perfectly willing to drive at 150 km/h on 1-lane country roads

150km/h maybe not on country roads, but on the motorway no problem.
That been said the high-speed tendencies decreased a lot since the radar population exploded.

5. ride bicycles in Paris

It's good for your lungs to take the fresh air???

6. consume triple-crème cheeses

Cheese is life.
(I'm addicted and I'm not going to quit).

Unknown said...

Sigh. All flu vaccines are developed in a hurry without extensive clinical trials, since flu viruses are constantly changing. Each strain of virus requires its own vaccine. The technique of making the vaccine to combat a given strain is well understood and well tested, and the manufacturing and delivery method is the same for all flu vaccines. Hence your critique misses the point. As for the homeopathic remedy prescribed by Anonymous' doctor, I'm sure that was subjected to rigorous clinical trials and proven effective against all strains of the flu and--why not?--obesity, cancer, baldness, and flatulence. The alleged "hyping" of the swine flu might also be described as education of the public. As officials have repeatedly explained, A-H1N1 is unusually contagious but not unusually virulent or lethal; it may, however, mutate as the season progresses and become more lethal, and it is already demonstrably more lethal to certain categories of people, who have been assigned the highest priority for the vaccine. All of this has been quite lucidly explained by the responsible officials, who should not be blamed for the obdurate resistance of a large segment of the public. "What a piece of work is Man!"

Passerby said...

PS: I would have used the spelling "Dingo" (based on "Les Dingodossier"; a very serious reference).

Passerby said...


I didn't say that I agreed with the charges against that particular vaccine. I just noted what has been reported in the media. As far as I know that's what's driving people's attitude toward the H1N1 shots.

Honestly I usually don't get the flu shot, so I didn't bother to look whether that vaccine was more or less safe than the seasonal versions.

Unknown said...

Look, the point is that H1N1 is much more contagious and potentially more lethal than the ordinary flu. That's why there's a fuss from the government. If you choose not to get the ordinary flu shot, that's one thing: it's generally of interest only to high-risk categories such as the elderly, the asthmatic, those with chronic respiratory ailments, etc. And it's not an economic threat because it's less contagious than H1N1, which has the potential to put a large proportion of the work force on its backs. Governments have done their best to get the information out. The indifference, willful ignorance, and misinformation-mongering threatens a well-intentioned public health effort. I shudder to think what will happen if this epidemic turns lethal, and the current experience does not bode well for future responses to the epidemics that have become more likely than ever in an age of global travel.

Unknown said...

Whenever I have something remotely resembling a cold, my standard expression, "je suis grippé" (I've got the flu), is the same as that of every other Frenchman that I ever met. Furthermore, having been treated with a deluge of terrifying news during the spring and summer - it really looked like the bubonic plague was making a comeback -, the public is possibly decompressing from the terror that was inflicted, hearing French hospital specialists saying that this FLU strain is not quite as deadly as the public was led to believe. It is in fact possible, according to the same doctors, that large numbers of Frenchmen were exposed to a closely related FLU strain in the late fifties or early sixties. This could explain in part the reluctance to get FLU shots. As for the virus mutating into something more lethal, I'd say then, let me get this flu right now, so that I acquire immunity against the next variant. But then, I fear needles anyway.

In every country or society, the public chooses what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of, and these choices do not necessarily relate to objectively measured risks. For instance, in California according to Brad Delong's blog, smoking in a car where children are present is now an offense that will be punished. I note that guns can essentially be bought freely. Both are objectively dangerous, but both are not equally dangerous, wouldn't you say, Art? So, yes, we do have our idiosyncracies and they are not necessarily smart, but we keep them.

Unknown said...

I deplore both the French indifference to second-hand smoke and the American indifference to the danger of guns. I'm not sure how I would quantify the relative risks, but the fact that one may be more or less dangerous than the other doesn't preclude protesting the prevalence of both. And there's also the issue of what's socially acceptable. Increasing numbers of people are physically revolted by the presence of cigarette smoke in their homes, restaurants, etc. Removing one's clothing in a restaurant is probably less harmful than smoking in the same location, but no one objects to punishing the former, while some consider punishing the latter an undue infringement of personal freedom. But norms evolve.

MYOS said...

It's not just the French: the Germans have had their very own controversy on the subject - the vaccine is not 'just like all others', since some have had ... chemicals... (for lack of the proper term!) added to them, which may make them more efficient or dangerous for some people.
I agree with bernard, above: French people were constantly fed the news that a plague of yet-unknown-proportions would hit. It was all "prepare to die!" Nothing hit.Stats emerged about the regular flu (which also kills). Those images of youngsters playing volleyball with their mask on struck me but I'm sure there were many (every day!) So everyone figured out it'd been overhyped, as often happens with the French press, add to this the "defiance" business - NS has very very little cred here, if you told people Bachelot bought all the vaccines because his family stands to profit they'd be more willing to believe it than the government looking out for everyone's best interests.
It's a recipe for a catastrophe if the current strain turns out lethal, indeed.
But France is not alone and I don't think French people are being "dingo" - I think they react in what could have been culturally predicted.

Also, I reiterate: say you've got the flu and you've got one week home from work. Garanteed. (You've got to stay at home since if you're seen outside wandering about you can be reported and sued, not to mention lose your job, but if you've got odd jobs, shelves to fix.... why get the vaccine?)

MYOS said...

defiance and stuff, found on the internetts.
Je ne sais pas pourquoi mais notre président éveille toujours le soupçon sur tout ce qu’il dit, même lorsqu’il raconte sa vie sur facebook