Cultural attitudes about swine flu vaccine

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MARCO WERMAN: So what is the public to make of the differing recommendations on opposite sides of the Atlantic? Are Europeans too blase about the risks of swine flu? Are Americans too worried? Robert Dingwall is director of the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham in England. He says people in some parts of Europe view the H1N1 virus more casually than Americans do.

PROFESSOR DINGWALL: I think that's true to some extent to Mainland Europe. It's certainly not true of the United Kingdom, and that's partly because Mainland Europe is a little bit behind the curve in terms of the number of cases that are being experienced and the number of deaths which are taking place. The U.K. and the U.S. are in a broadly similar position. Both of us have had a lot of cases. Both of us have had a number of deaths. You know, we can see the consequences of not vaccinating people, and that I think has given perhaps a little bit more urgency to the efforts of governments and public health planners in our countries than would be the case in some parts of the European Mainland.

WERMAN: One thinks of Europeans as being maybe more accepting of disease, but they also seem more leery than we are in this country of manmade risks like genetically modified foods and pollutants in the environment. Would you agree with that?

DINGWALL: Well, I think there are some important cultural differences here, which partly come down to different ways in which Europe and the United States think about nature and they think about the benefits that science and technology are bringing to them. But there's also a difference in the way that they understand the risks of not doing things. I mean, it's conspicuous that Americans take preventive medicine rather more seriously, at least in part, because they're more concerned about the consequences of getting ill. And you need to remember that whether you're in the United Kingdom or the National Health System, whether you're in Mainland Europe where most people are covered by some form of social insurance, if you get sick somebody else picks up the tab. And so if you don't get vaccinated and you get sick, it doesn't mean that you're heading for the personal or family bankruptcy.

WERMAN: Right.

DINGWALL: That I think that leads people to evaluate the risks and benefits in slightly different ways.

WERMAN: So sum it up for us. I mean, is one approach on one side of the Atlantic better than another approach on the other side?

DINGWALL: Well, I'm not sure that I would say whether one approach is better than another. I would say that different countries are operating within different national cultures, and the right solution in one country is not necessarily directly exposable to another.

WERMAN: And finally Professor Dingwall, did you or will you get vaccinated against H1N1?

DINGWALL: Well, I'm not in the priority group because I'm under 65 and otherwise in good health. However, my wife who is a retired health professional who is over 65 and has an underlying health condition will certainly accept the vaccine when it's offered to her.

WERMAN: Robert Dingwall, a Sociologist at the University of Nottingham. He specializes in the study of medicine and law. Thank you very much for speaking with us, Professor Dingwall.

DINGWALL: Thank you.