THE GOVERNMENT SAYS WE CAN PUT ARTIFICIAL FILLERS IN OUR COUGH MEDICINE. WE CAN'T. WE'RE KOSHER. AND WE ANSWER TO A HIGHER AUTHORITY.

Triaminic becomes the first maker of over-the-counter children's cold-and-cough medicines to have its product certified by the Orthodox Union. Look for the OU symbol on a bottle of the grape-flavored soother on a drugstore counter near you.

It's a bit surprising that no one has sought or received the kosher symbol before this, although for families who keep kosher, Manischewitz Concord Grape has, we're sure, always done an adequate job of soothing sick children. (In the case of a severe cold, we'd prescribe the Sangria).

Issues of Jewish law, especially kashrut law, always make for stimulating reading:

Prescription drugs are not a problem under Jewish dietary laws because they are viewed as lifesaving necessities. The Talmud — the collection of Jewish writings that include biblical laws and subsequent interpretations of them by centuries of rabbinical scholars — places a premium on the sanctity of life ....

But over-the-counter medicines and supplements like vitamins are treated more like nourishment. Intended to ease discomfort or enhance health — not cure an illness — they are not entitled to the same exemptions as prescription drugs. The flavorings used to make liquid medicine more pleasant tasting also complicate matters because, in the eyes of Orthodox rabbis, they make medicinal products more like food. So kosher law applies, and any ingredient bearing animal derivatives renders a product unacceptable.

OK, but what about medicines like hay fever remedies, some of which are sold by prescription only to preserve a pharmaceutical company's patent as long as legally possible -- and which, we might add, are not lifesaving drugs (in most cases) but relievers of discomfort (albeit a lot of discomfort)?

BUT IS THE CHICKEN POX VACCINE KOSHER?

If we weren't in the stand-up philosopher business, we might be tempted to go into epidemiology and public health, because we love fields where counter-intuitive thinking makes a real difference. Case in point: The chicken pox (varicella) vaccine.

On first glance, it has been an unqualified public health success: Even though the vaccine is expensive, hardly anyone gets chicken pox anymore and almost all children have been vaccinated. Incidence of the illness is down 90 percent and average annual deaths have fallen below 70. Further, the idea has always been that widespread use of the vaccine would not only prevent chicken pox but limit occurRence of the painful adult version, shingles.

But now the questionable durability of the immunity produced by the vaccine may alter the cost-benefit calculus. Older studies have shown that immunity to chickenpox (which historically has been virtually perfect after an attack of the virus) seems to depend on re-exposure .... It turns out that the vaccinated kids keep up high levels of protection because they are exposed over and over again to unprotected kids who catch the disease and pass it on. Each time such an exposure occurs, the immunized kids get a little "boost," which stimulates their immunity. Doctors think that the same thing happens to older patients who are at risk of shingles because they once had chickenpox—every time they're exposed to poxy youngsters, their immunity gets a kick, which helps to suppress the reactivation of the latent virus as shingles.

But now that practically every child in the United States has been given a dose of chickenpox vaccine, neither kids nor adults will have the opportunity for re-exposure. The initial hope that the vaccine would help prevent shingles (because immunized people are less likely to develop shingles than people who have had the natural infection) may unravel .... we may well need to routinely re-immunize children and perhaps even adults to prevent recurrent chickenpox and shingles—a far more costly proposition than we originally bargained for.

So, what to do? You could deny your child the vaccine. Maybe yours is the kid who should "take one for the team," come down the pox, and then shuttle around the community, giving all of your neighbors an immunization boost. But if you decide to go that route, let us know so we can make an appointment for infection, because we're not going to do it.

LET'S KEEP VIOLENCE OUT OF THE MEDIA, AND IN THE SCHOOL PARKING LOT, WHERE IT BELONGS

Over at Salon.com, Andrew O'Hehir has composed a couple dozen thousand words on the myth of media violence, pegged to Hillary Clinton's recent pandering on the subject. To make a long story short, he concludes that no one knows how violence in the media may or may not directly affect or influence young people, that even with all of the media options simultaneously available to our children, today's violent content is no more, and maybe even less shocking than that of the past, and that, after all:

Most of us don't have to worry about breeding little homicidal maniacs. What's far more plausible, and more dangerous, is that we'll raise a pack of sedentary, cynical little button-pushing consumption monsters who never go outside. Now that's scary.

March 15, 2005 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.