November 1st, 2009
08:26 AM ET

Dear President Obama #286: The swine flu doubters

Reporter's Note: The Administration has been dealing with tough questions about the short supply of swine flu vaccine. But they’ve been dealing with something else too: A serious case of doubt among many Americans. I have no doubt my daily letter to the president could help.

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

You might guess from my name, Thomas, that I am a doubting sort by nature and you would be right. I doubt that I’ll get much taller. I doubt that I will ever be called by a professional sports team to fill in when they run out of quarterbacks. I doubt that I will ever become a big fan of Dancing With the Stars. Not that I haven’t tried.

And I doubt science sometimes; when it makes shaky claims, when research is being paid for groups with too much vested interest in a slanted outcome, and when a scientist’s ideas run too fiercely counter to the body of knowledge built over many years by many others. (That last one is a little tricky for me, because I often believe that when “everyone knows” something it is probably not true, and I’ve always been a great admirer of pioneers who come up with something utterly new. Like Tupperware for instance.)

All of that being said, however, I’m having a little trouble understanding all the folks who doubt the science of the H1N1 vaccine. Their chief concerns seem to be that the vaccine was developed quickly, that the virus we are dealing with is a bit novel and unknown, and they just don’t feel comfortable having anything related to all that injected into their bodies. Fair enough. It’s a free country. Or at least mostly. The problem is, when we are dealing with a pandemic I think we have to ask ourselves what matters more: and individual’s rights or society’s well-being?

Oddly enough, in addressing this problem, I think you might find it helpful to consider this possibility: Maybe the doubt is not really about pure science at all. Maybe what has made people uneasy is the politicization of science. As conservatives and liberals alike have used science to prove their points over the years, I think science itself has been cheapened. The scientific and academic communities have too often sold out for fame, money, or to promote a certain political viewpoint, and we’re all suffering for that; because such behavior opens the door for deeper doubting of the integrity, honesty, and reliability of science.

So when something like swine flu comes along, there are a lot of folks already predisposed to say “vaccinate yourself…but count me out.” Vaccines have certainly had some problems over the years. But they have also saved millions and millions of lives. I think you should make both points clear, get the vaccine supply on track (where it should be anyway, but that’s another problem) and start encouraging all your political pals to respect science for what it is…an honorable quest for truth…and don’t just cherry pick the facts that back your case, whatever it is. That could help a lot of us with our doubts.

Hope all is well. Hey, the Saints are on MNF! Are you coming over? Let me know so I can be sure to have enough burgers…



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. `Combi Boilers

    swine flu is really not very deadly at all, there are just mass panic-.-

    August 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  2. Lori

    Scientific research has been cheapened since the days of Mendel. His work on genetics was hidden due to politics for hundreds of years. Can we get a vaccine for politicalization?

    November 2, 2009 at 12:19 am |
  3. Kim

    Mercury limits law temporarily suspended ? What's happening with that in your state and see the secretary of health ? How much Thimerosal (mercury) are they putting in that vaccination ? Subtypes of pig flu ; H1N1,H1N2,H3N1,H3N2 and do we have a test with specificity and match for influenza to the vaccination ? Or are the scientists still studing this influenza and how is the mutation going ? We hear it peaks this week and the vaccination is a day late and a dollar short. Center For Advanced Medicine and Clinical Research is an interesting read. Resvertrol is in red wine and pump up the Vit. D ! Read what the scientists say that studied this influenza in Japan. Still skeptical and they don't have enough anyway,so you step right on up.

    November 1, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  4. Conserve' for USA

    The government is making this out to be a pandemic. This in it's self is making a lot of people afraid. More people die each year from the regular flu, so far only 5000 have died from H1N1. Let's see the government show how "not" to catch it, instead of pushing the vaccine so much.

    November 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  5. Norma Labno


    Tom, I read this Letter to the President with intense interest!

    It sickens me to what degree health care and illness has been

    I respect each individuals right to choose if they wish to be
    vaccinated for H1N1 or not!

    My son chooses not to be vaccinated and he is in a dangerous age
    group! I'm having an Orange Juice Drinking Contest With him!

    I had Bacterial Pneumonia when I was in my 40's and it's the sickest
    I've been so far so I choose to get both a flu shot & had a pneumonia

    I think they have helped but it might be the placebo effect???

    Each person has to decide for themselves based on their health and

    Have a GOOD rest of the weekend!

    norma from nv

    November 1, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  6. T

    Well Tom, one would think a guy like you would question why the flu, a genetically manufactured virus created in the first place and then why it was allowed to spread... then consider that if there was a cure for cancer it would take the FDA 5 years to approve it... all kinda strange but the truth. no?? And who decides what is the well being cure, the people who create such? With no legit testing time frame? Love the President, but no thanks in this area. Just my thoughts.

    November 1, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  7. Tudor

    I could not agree more with Thomas – this vaccine is untested and will certainly have consequences. Better prevent than cure.

    November 1, 2009 at 9:18 am |