Sir Liam Donaldson – Still Worried About Swine Flu
Sir Liam Donaldson used to be Chief Medical Officer. We grew used to his panic-spreading about health scares like swine flu.
And now, he is the lead author of a new paper on swine flu in The Lancet.
Apparently swine flu killed three times as many children last year as “ordinary flu” would have.
Sounds serious eh? And the paper declares boldy:
Our findings support the vaccination of children against pandemic influenza A H1N1. Children at greatest risk of severe illness or death should be prioritised. Our data indicate that risk groups include children with preexisting illness (including chronic neurological or gastrointestinal disease) and those in ethnic minority groups (including Bangladeshi and Pakistani children).
However, our findings also suggest that protection cannot be confined to risk groups as 21 per cent of deaths in our cohort occurred in healthy children.
There’s one problem with that conclusion: it bears no relation to the evidence presented.
First, that “three times as likely”. A reader glancing at the story might think that means swine flu is three times as dangerous to children as “normal flu”. But in fact, it means that six in every million children caught swine flu and died from it, while normally two in every million catch “normal flu” and die from it.
And that is hardly surprising considering that during that mini-epidemic, overall levels of flu in the population were significantly higher than usual. And flu sometimes (very rarely) kills its victims. The truth is that those statistics pretty much prove that swine flu is no more dangerous than “normal flu”.
The total number of children who died from swine flu was apparently 70. And of those, most had pre-existing conditions that made them susceptible. Just 14 were previously healthy. A comment on that Telegraph article points out that these numbers are not statistically significant anyway.
The real situation is that there were more flu cases than usual last year, and therefore a few more people died from it than usual. Awful for the families involved, obviously, but hardly an enormous menace that justifies an immediate mass vaccination programme.
That figure of six children per million dying from swine flu equates to one per 167,000.
By way of comparison, according to the US National Weather Service, around one in every 500,000 Americans are struck by lightning each year.
Thus Sir Liam thinks that a risk that is around three times the risk of being struck by lightning, justifies a vaccination programme for all children.
Good grief, Sir Liam. Time for a well-earned retirement methinks.