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McMaster University news release on flu vaccine trial left out the key data finding


4 Star
McMaster University

Flu nasal spray provides similar protection against influenza as flu shot: Study

Our Review Summary

Baby Girl getting a ShotThis McMaster University news release reports the results of a study looking at effectiveness of two different types of flu vaccine in a Canadian community.

The release refrained from using sensational language to describe the study, and it clearly identifies who funded the research. However, it missed the mark when describing the effectiveness of the study. It focused on the wrong metric–the “uptake”– that is, how many people in each study group were vaccinated. Instead, we should have been informed of the main outcome of the study, which was the rates of influenza in communities vaccinated with nasal vs injected vaccine over the course of the study. (These rates were statistically no different: 5.2% for the standard vs 5.3% for the nasal vaccine.)


Why This Matters

An important aspect of this study is that previously, a CDC advisory committee had recommended against using the nasal sprays to vaccinate children for the 2016-2017 flu season.  If that recommendation was incorrect, then using the spray as well as standard injections gives both individuals and public health officials more options in the control of a reoccurring disease.  This study, if its results are borne out, offers valuable information for the public.


Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

This release doesn’t discuss costs in its comparison of influenza shots versus nasal sprays, although both modes of immunization have been around for a long while and the costs for both are easily known.  While flu immunizations are often free through public health clinics and such, some people receive their immunizations from their family physicians and carry a specific cost.  Knowing the difference in costs between the two types is useful information both for people and public health officials.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The release reports similar rates of vaccine uptake for intranasal vaccine and standard flu shots.  But it does not quantify benefits for the main outcome of the study, that is, rates of influenza in communities vaccinated with nasal vs injected vaccine over the course of the study.  These rates were statistically no different: 5.2% for the standard vs 5.3% for the nasal vaccine.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

This release makes no mention of possible harms that my follow the use of either the influenza vaccine injections or nasal spray, even though there are well-known restrictions on whom should and should not receive the nasal spray, and potential negative reactions to the injections among some people.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The release points out that the study was the “first blinded randomized controlled trial” done in children within largely closed communities and it found similar efficacy in using the two modes of immunization.

However, we do wish the release had addressed limitations, as well as some of the complexity of making these results generalizable to a larger population, as we saw with NPR’s take on the news.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?


While media attention is routinely heightened leading up to and during flu season, this release does not appear to reach the level of disease mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?


The release does identify the chief funder of the study, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, although it offers no information on possible conflicts of interest among any of the researchers. The abstract of the study does state that two of the researchers do have links to pharmaceutical firms, but not in relation this study.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


Since the study looked a two forms of influenza vaccine administration, it obviously addresses the question of comparing alternatives.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


Both forms of immunization — shots and nasal spray — have been around for some time, their availability is widely known, earning the release a Satisfactory in this category.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?


The release makes clear that the novelty of this study is its ability to examine both indirect effects of vaccination on the community as well as direct effects for persons receiving the vaccine.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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