Tag: president

Wonder Why so many Americans are wary of Vaccines

 
In the past, US Anti-vaxxer protests have not gone unnoticed by the world. And while it was surprising then, anyone who was curious enough to dig a bit deeper, also saw that the US had at least a few more vaccinations prescribed to newborns-through-18 than many other countries. So, at least to me, questioning the need for all the vaccines by some groups seemed understandable (though not justified, especially when one’s personal choice could put others’ health at risk too). But thanks to Covid-19, a good part of the world became keen to get vaccinated, so they could go back to a normal, pre-Covid kind of life.
 
Early on with the Covid-19 vaccines, it seemed a bit concerning that educated populations from developed countries, were trusting of the Covid vaccines. Especially considering that in the past, vaccines took years to develop, even for less rapidly mutating diseases. And yet, in a record time, a few pharma companies had created vaccines for a dangerous variant of the flu that the world had not seen before. And one that continued to mutate into concern-causing variants through the vaccination drives. So while a considerable population of the developed and developing world scrambled for vaccines, it was not surprising how part of the population in the US continued to resist getting vaccinated.
 
The media and propaganda played a big part no less. Readiness or resistance toward the vaccine getting influenced by one’s political stance or religious beliefs. It gave us a glimpse of what the combination of human bias, politics, religion and media, are capable of.
 
While most of us have lost at least a few friends or family to Covid, and seeing how the vaccines have been safe so far, it was surprising to see some people in the US stay put on their decision not to get vaccinated.
 
As per a BBC article from a few days ago, US President Joe Biden was insistent that employers ensure their staff gets vaccinated. And a number of US citizens across professions remained adamant about not taking the shot, even if it cost them their job. Many seemed to be from the healthcare sector.
 
I wondered if those from the healthcare sector, being closer to the problem and solution, knew something about the vaccines that the rest of us did not. Especially since the virus continues to kill about 1500 Americans daily.
 

A few months ago, I was reading the exceptional book, ‘The Signal and the Noise‘ by Nate Silver [get a copy of it, it is priceless!]. An incident detailed in the book from American history made me wonder if that could be one of the causes that sowed the seed of doubt about vaccines or strong government interventions among Americans, making them continue to resist it. Especially since the country is among the top in innovation, so we are talking about an intelligent people, not some isolated, small town population in an underdeveloped country, cut-off from world perspective.

In the 1970’s, there was a common belief at that a major flu epidemic struck roughly once in a decade, and by 1976, the world expected one to hit.

In January, 1976 at Fort Dix, David Lewis, a nineteen year old private who had returned from holiday, had the flu – a common occurrence at army bases, thanks to soldiers returning from holiday bringing back some variant of the flu from their hometowns, and into cramped up bases, where it would spread. However, it was almost always the common variants, causing no concern. However, private Lewis, while on a march, collapsed and was later declared dead. The cause was pneumonia.

Hundreds of soldiers suffered from the common A/Victoria flu that year. Blood samples sent to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showed that some had the more disturbing H1N1, or swine flu; the one responsible for the 1918-20 Spanish flu. Around 200 soldiers at Fort Dix tested positive for swine flu, with private Lewis being the only casualty. While flu season had passed by then, scientists feared that by the next winter, there could be a severe outbreak of a more mutant strain of swine flu.

US President Gerald Ford’s secretary of health, F. David Mathews, estimated a potential death rate of a million. Fighting to repair his public image, President Ford thought that preparing his country for the epidemic would be the perfect way to do it. He rallied Congress to allow a USD 180 million plan to manufacture 200 million doses of vaccine, and ordered a mass vaccination program.

It was winter in the southern hemisphere, but to everyone’s surprise, there were no instances of H1N1. Criticism started to build. No other western country had called for such drastic measures.

Instead of admitting their mistake, the Ford administration went rogue. It created panic-causing public service announcements and telecast them at regular intervals. One TV message showed a healthy fifty-five year old mocking the vaccine, only to shown on his deathbed moments later.

The result was an American public that was fear-struck, by the disease and the vaccine. Under pressure from drug manufacturers, Congress indemnified them from legal liabilities that could arise from manufacturing defects. Vaccine production was rushed, without adequate testing. Compared to government estimates of 80%, polls found that only about 50% Americans intended to get vaccinated.

The vaccination program began in October. Three Pittsburgh citizens died shortly after receiving their shots. Similar news poured in from other cities, causing concern among those who had taken the shot.

By late fall, a bigger problem emerged. 500 of the 50 million vaccinated, began exhibiting symptoms of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis. This occurrence among the vaccinated, was ten times its usual incidence in general population (one case per million). Manufacturing defects due to the rushed production seemed a possible cause. The vaccine program ended on December 16th.

Long story short, the outbreak at Fort Dix was an isolated one, with no other H1N1 cases across the country. The government faced USD 2.6 billion in pharma liability claims. Cities and towns saw upright citizens who had contracted Guillain-Barré. Within a couple of years, the number of Americans willing to take flu shots dwindled to about one million.

One cannot say for sure if a horrific experience like this is what might have left Americans so wary of Covid-19 related government assurances and the vaccinations themselves. But it did make me wonder.

 

 

what’SAPpening?

what’SAPpening?

You know the whole “effect” thing. It is all about how things are put, less about what things really are. Its more about the gift wrap than about the gift. More to do with the fanfare, and less about the intention; all about quantity, not much about quality,  and all that.

For the past few months, one of my responsibilities at work includes contacting the Management folk at Colleges and B-Schools and introducing them to the SAP uAcademy courses, which are an innovative way of enabling students to gain working knowledge of SAP by way of a Learning Management System, an online Audio-Visual module, whereby students can take the course at their own pace, re-work topics, and they can have queries immediately answered by SAP’s support team by way of call, email, chat or video chat. And all this at a heavy discount to the SAP courses available at Training Centres.

Anyway, a part of this task involves me looking up college websites, identifying the right person to contact. A Vice Chancellor (VC) or Chairman, and in many cases, the Director or Dean.

I had a list of colleges that I started tackling one by one. The first few calls felt like I was speaking to the gatekeeper to heaven. Whose only job was to make it nearly impossible to reach the VC or President. I heard every reason from ‘he is traveling’, ‘not in town’, ‘not at his desk’ to more direct ‘no one can speak directly with him’ and so on. Schools, and I thought these folks were supposed to be a little more approachable. I have not had even half the trouble speaking and meeting General Managers and Directors at companies. And here I was, struggling to meet people at colleges.

Then, one Saturday, a few days and many calls later, I called a college on the number given on their ‘Contact Us’ page. And to my surprise, the Director answered! (‘Wha.!’, I’d say to myself, just praying it wasn’t a prank by a bored peon looking for a kick out of his otherwise mundane routine).

As I kept working on my list, I got to some colleges which had mobile numbers listed under ‘Contact Us’, which belonged to Directors or Dean’s. A refreshing change from the otherwise fortress some institutes had around their heads.

And today, when I was almost at the end of my list, I call a college and asked only for the Director’s email id (no, couldn’t find any direct lines, and I was way too bored to request a direct word with the Director), saying I will first email him and then call to speak with him, and the generous person at the other end says ‘Hold on, I’ll connect you to him, you could speak to him directly’.

The more you want something done, people seem to make it that much tougher. When you don’t care, they’ll give you that extra push up the hill. Humans, never cease to amaze.

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