Ready for some lockjaw?

By Amy Standen

Published March 13, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story.

When I went for my annual checkup at the prestigious Kirklin Clinic -- a part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham -- last month, I was ready for my tetanus booster. It had been 10 years. After all the usual exams and blood work were done, the nurse told me they were "out of vaccine." No one knew when the clinic would get any more. I was among hundreds of patients on a waiting list and would be notified. I mentioned that I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, around fish hooks and barbed wire, and might even go to Africa on a hunting trip come June. Sorry, no vaccine, no can do.

No one said why. Now, thanks to, I know the answer.

-- Gita Smith

Having read several years ago in the book "Everybody's Business" just what a bunch of cheap bastards the management of American Home Products is, I guess I should not be surprised to learn of this latest example.

While I remain a committed capitalist, I am appalled at the lack of concern this company has for the American public by discontinuing the production of tetanus inoculations. I suppose we will now need a couple of high-profile cases of lockjaw and/or death before something is done. I just hope it isn't either of my kids or granddaughter.

Back in the '50s, living in rural Illinois, we had a neighboring farm family, German/Russian immigrants, who did not believe in inoculations. Sure enough, their eldest son stepped on a nail on the farm and came down with lockjaw. His treatment almost ruined the family financially. He lost so much time from school, he ended up being held back several times and never was really the same after the incident. This could all happen again. It doesn't have to. American Home Products should be ashamed of itself.

-- Al Schlaf

Although corporations controlling the supply of vaccines does seem to be a problem, I'd just like to offer that I've never had a tetanus shot and most likely never will. I'm a healthy 34-year-old who has had many a cut, scrape and abrasion. I've worked on farms and forests in the U.S. and in developing countries. Many a doctor has wanted to jab me with a tetanus shot and I have always refused. I'm not arguing that tetanus vaccination is not worthwhile. From my experience, I question how necessary it is for everybody.

-- John Schmit

People are usually astonished to learn that price controls cause shortages, no matter how many times it occurs right before their eyes. It is good to see a well-written and informative article pointing this out.

-- Kevin Miller

I was surprised at how anxious your writer is to foment scandal and public outcry. The departure of Wyeth-Ayerst from the tetanus vaccine market need not be a catastrophe. The fact is, one vaccine is all anyone ever needs for this disease. There has only ever been one case of a person contracting tetanus after having had one vaccine. His records show that he was vaccinated when he signed up for the Army, and that he was deathly afraid of needles. It is more than likely that he paid a buddy to take the required shot for him. Your writer states that most people who die of tetanus are elderly and that the vaccine has worn off. More likely is that these poor souls were too old to have been included in the universal inoculation trend, which didn't really catch on until the '30s and '40s.

-- Princess

Wherever did you find that hideous photo to accompany your story on tetanus? A dental hygiene text from the "Advanced Stages of Periodontal Disease" section? Yuck. Forget lockjaw -- the person in that photo ought to be more concerned about all the teeth falling out of his head.

-- Paul Linxwiler

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me, "Do you think if someone invented a cure for AIDS, we would ever see it?" This article is a prime example of the argument that says, No, we will never see a cure for AIDS or any other disease that affects large numbers of people, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The money in pharmaceuticals lies in treatment, not cure, just as it is unprofitable for a company that makes vacuum cleaners or refrigerators to produce a product that lasts 40 or 50 years. As long as the research for these diseases is conducted by profit-motivated corporations, we will continue to receive better and better treatment to help us live longer with diseases, and fewer and fewer cures to eradicate these diseases altogether. The answer isn't to allow the manufacturers to charge more for vaccines. We need a national program to create and research these and other lifesaving drugs outside of capitalistic pressures. There are just some areas where supply-and-demand economics creates a threat to public safety; this is a prime example.

-- Jeff Crook

By Salon Staff

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