Using ERM to decide if you should get the H1N1 vaccine

The Canadian government is practicing risk management this week.

It has begun administering H1N1 vaccines as part of the largest mass immunization effort in Canadian history. But did it assess the impact and likelihood of H1N1 risk properly before implementing this plan? Are people making the right decisions about getting (or not getting) the shot? Against the backdrop of the H1N1 vaccination debate, I thought I would borrow some of the concepts of enterprise risk management to make this decision for my family.

There are two sides to this debate: people who will get the vaccine and those who will not. Regardless of which side of the debate you are on, this week I have seen examples of poor risk management on both sides.

Too often organizations spend time and money treating the wrong risks because they focus on one marquis risk rather than carefully examining their portfolio of risks. For the parents who are waiting in line from 4 to 6 hours to get the vaccine, they are in panic mode. These folks have perceived the impact of not getting the shot as catastrophic (i.e., death) and the probability is 100%.

And organizations do this all the time. They panic and spend time and resources on the wrong risks without practicing smart risk management. (Please read about my dishwasher risk management.) I am not saying there is no H1N1 risk; I am just saying the impact and likelihood are less than 100% .When we make decisions about which risks to treat based on anecdotal evidence rather than data, we make the wrong decisions.

Alternatively, other people think the vaccine is harmful; they won’t get the shot because they say it contains mercury or thimerosal. These people are also practicing poor risk management. In their minds, the risk of harm from the mercury is catastrophic (i.e., death) and the probability is 100%.  But if they looked at this vaccination risk in the context of other risks – a portfolio of risks – they would learn that the impact of getting H1N1 is much worse than the adverse side-effects you could get from the actual shot.  (By the way, according to Health Canada, there is more mercury in a can of tuna than the shot.)

Others won’t get the shot because they believe it could cause autism or Guillain–Barré syndrome. Again, have the parents who have chosen not to get the shot for these reasons properly assessed the impact and likelihood of getting these verses getting the flu? Probably not. (Only 1 or 2 people in 100000 get Guillain–Barré syndrome and the autism concern has been discredited.)

Finally, I am not advocating getting the vaccine or not, and I am not an expert in vaccine side-effects, all I am saying is get the facts and assess the risks of getting the vaccine – or not – and then do it in the context of all the other risks your family faces every day.

If you are an organization, always do your proper risk assessments on a portfolio basis and base decisions on qualitative or quantitative data and not on emotion or panic.

Data used was taken from

2 thoughts on “Using ERM to decide if you should get the H1N1 vaccine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *