27 June 2010


Writing Diary, Entry #19

One of the perks of being a "media person" (however loosely that label applies) is getting to attend lots of "media events."

Not that all that almost-free food and almost-free entertainment (All yours for the price of a well-written article!) isn't without its downside. Two Saturdays ago, at my latest press junket, I met a magazine editor who confessed that when one has to show up and make nice at up to three different parties in one day, the glitz gets really old, really fast. And she seemed a happy extrovert!

This junket, sponsored by a leading multi-national pharmaceutical company, was about "The Value of Vaccines" and was held in a beach resort three hours away from the city. When I first heard about the, uh, setting (LOL!) I had to wonder why it was relevant to the, um, plot. =P Really, what in the world does a seaside resort have to do with vaccines?

The first speaker, a representative of the company, addressed that when she admitted that it would have been cheaper for the company (not to mention more practical for the invited reporters!) to have held the junket in some luxury hotel in the city's commercial centre; but that such a choice would have ultimately backfired. Vaccinology, she explained, is a subject that demands so much of a serious listener's concentration that a writer who simply pencils the talks into four hours on a Saturday won't give the topic half the attention it needs.

And that is why a group of thirty writers, editors and bloggers (!) had been spirited away to a place so close to nature that most of our mobile phones refused to work!

So I got a real, "All the better to brainwash you, my pretties!" vibe--which I didn't really have a problem with because all the talks were very convincing. (I hope I'm not being unconsciously ironic!)

My favourite lecture was by a doctor from the Department of Health, who (I learned too late) had actually been one of my doctors when I was a baby. He began by asking us what first comes to mind when we heard the term "public health." He guessed--in my case, correctly--that most people associate "public health" with good hospitals, trained medical personnel, and all the medicines the sick need, when they need them. But these are often just cures, when real public health is just as much about prevention.

"If you can pour yourself some water from the tap and drink it without worrying about getting sick," he said, "that's good public health. Or if you are in a car accident and are saved because of your seat belt and the design of the car, that's also good public health. Treatment of the sick is only the part you see, but the most important part is helping the healthy stay healthy."

And the most important part is pretty much an invisible part. As he later explained, with the resigned common sense that comes from over thirty years of medical experience: when a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she can pay up to 1.2 million pesos for radiotherapy, doctors' fees, medicines, and even surgery before she can get a clean bill of health again, and then she praises her doctors to the skies. But if she spends only a few thousand pesos for the new vaccine that helps prevent cervical cancer, and is spared all of the worry, anguish, and pain (the financial cost being the least of her worries), she doesn't say a thing about it, does she?

Another speaker added that vaccines are the victim of their own success. Measles used to kill hundreds of children a year, and so parents lined up for vaccines to protect their own children. But now that measles outbreaks are so rare and relatively easy to control, fewer and fewer children every year are vaccinated against it. And as the "herd immunity" goes down, well . . .

My old doctor told us the story of the first year he was working in the Department of Health. Someone in his vaccination team had rung him up to give him the good news that they had achieved the target of 95% immunity. He was not impressed.

"All that means," he told his subordinate, "is that we have vaccinated 95% of our estimated number of children, not that we have vaccinated 95% of all children. Look for more children, vaccinate them, and call me back."

One month later, the same team was finally able to rest on the figure of 108% immunity.

But this fight to improve public health is not something that the government and big business can do alone. (Heck, nothing in the world that is truly important is something that the government and big business can do alone!) Ordinary citizens need to get on board and understand the importance of being vaccinated against preventable diseases--not only for their own sake, but for the sake of those who might also catch these diseases and suffer from them. And this is where the media comes in. People who will pass over the latest pharmaceutical literature or ignore the latest dispatches from the Department of Health will read the articles in the Fitness, Health, and Lifestyle sections of their favourite magazines and newspapers. (And now I must say that one unexpected consequence of these media junkets is the death of my libertarian streak.)

The four lectures took the better part of the evening, but the next morning was all about fun in the sun, sand and surf. (A fellow "media person"--the editor mentioned above--posted some pictures of the resort on her own blog.)

During the long ride home--which took me past the Cathedral at Lipa and the new church being built in honour of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace--I flipped through my press kit and decided I wanted to start a new collection. I have a stack of magazines in which my articles have appeared. Now I want a stack of press kits, too.


christopher said...

This is a well-written post, ma'am. Reminds me of one you wrote on getting children to read at an early age (yes? or am I thinking of something else?) I also remember sailing by Batangas but never stopping, it looked beautiful. The whole Verde Island pass was beautiful

FrB said...

Junket? Nice!

Anti-vaccine quackery coupled with a basic misunderstanding of medical science has badly compomised 'herd immunity' in some parts of Britain.

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher: Thanks! It's nice to see you again. =) You (and your raccoon) are always welcome here!

Father: I think what most Filipinos are worried about is that vaccines donated to Third World countries will sterilise women who receive them. I can't remember where I first heard that story, but it has been around for years.

Sullivan McPig said...

I'm a bit saddened by the fact that it's true most people don't see the value of good health care. I myself have always been very grateful for living in a country that has great health care and am at the moment very worried about how big pharmaceutical companies are trying to turn health care into a business until it's something that can only be afforded by those with money.

Paul Stilwell said...

Isn't that cervical cancer mentioned the one that results as an STD?

Michael said...

I will go in the opposite direction of the previous comments and suggest your first instincts about why you were out on the beach were correct. :-)

Why Do People Get Flu Shots


A good bit of freely-available information paints a rather cautionary and contrary-to-mainstream-orthodoxy picture of vaccinations. According to Vaccination Debate, a private website based in Australia, there is little, if any data-based support for the belief that vaccination is as important as it is often portrayed to be. This is evident when one examines the timing between the introduction of most vaccines and the decrease in death rates for the diseases they supposedly fight. While there are several examples of this phenomenon, I’ll only include a couple below; note that year is plotted on the X-axis.

Michael said...

Those pictures are quite nice. =P

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully: Well, in fairness, this company has been trying to help less advantaged people get better access to its medicines through price cutting schemes, etc. But the cost of research is very high, and they can't afford to just give stuff away. So they try to meet as many people as possible halfway, which is a reasonable business model, I think.

Paul: I remember reading somewhere that HPV, which is an STD, can lead to cervical cancer.

Michael: Thanks for that link. The graphs are very interesting. You were right to guess that the greater historical context was not presented in quite that way.

But my old doctor did say that another disease for which there is no vaccine, dengue is also considered preventable because proper hygiene and a clean environment can drastically reduce dengue cases.