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Flu shots a tough sell to health care workers


3 Star

Flu shots a tough sell to health care workers

Our Review Summary

This story, which explores healthcare workers’ compliance with flu vaccine recommendations, is flawed in two fundamental ways: Its sourcing and its lack of reporting on the vaccine’s effectiveness. 

  • The main source in the story is the leader of a group funded by the vaccine industry, whose mission is to educate the public about the benefits of vaccination. While the reporter discloses this connection, that’s insufficient. A self-interested party should not be a story’s central source. In this case, a public health expert with no industry connection should have been.    
  • The story fails to report on the effectiveness of the flu shot in preventing influenza in a population of healthy working adults. The story is premised on the belief that the flu shot prevents the flu in everyone who gets the shot. The data are far more complicated. Readers should be helped to understand this. 

The journalist does some good reporting by finding out about vaccination policies and compliance at several health care facilities. But this does not compensate for the story’s fundamental flaws. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story should have mentioned the cost of a flu shot.

It’s not vital to this story, but during a period of such close scrutiny of health care costs, the price of procedures should be reported whenever possible, as a matter of course.  And the economics of the flu vaccine could have been mentioned; According to the CDC the return on the relatively inexpensive vaccine is up to $4,000 per person in avoided costs (see: ). The majority of the savings is in reductions of sick time due to illness.

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

Not Satisfactory

The article makes no attempt to report how effective the flu shot is in preventing the flu in healthy, able-bodied adults. It uses only anecdotes provided by the foundation supported by vaccine makers.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story mentions that the flu shot does not cause the flu, which is the potential harm of greatest relevance here.

Other risks are minor and serious reactions are rare. The story should have mentioned the risk for those who have allergy to eggs.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to cite evidence demonstrating the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing flu among healthy, able-bodied adult workers.

The CDC estimates that it is 70-90 percent effective, depending on the match between each year’s vaccine and the flu viruses most prevalent each year.  

This is an unfortunate omission. The reporter could have used this as an opportunity to educate the public about what a flu shot can and can’t do for this kind of population.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story cites two cases in which health care workers’ failure to get flu shots may be linked to deaths. The links in these two cases are not based on convincing data, but the writer states the connections as fact. 

Still, the story properly states that no conclusive data shows a danger to the public from workers’ not getting vaccinated, so the story earns a satisfactory rating.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The main source in the story, who advocates health care worker vaccination, is the leader of a group funded by vaccine makers. While the reporter discloses this conflict of interest properly, he or she should have given this self-interested source less prominence in the story.

The story includes three additional medical sources representing health care institutions, and cites data about health worker vaccination from the CDC.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The report focuses on health workers getting or not getting the vaccine. It mentions, in passing, other ways health care workers can reduce risk of passing along the flu: hand-washing and face-masks.

Ideally the story also would have mentioned anti-viral drugs, which can be used judiciously to reduce the impact of outbreaks. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The availability of the flu shot is not in question. It would have been ideal for the writer to advise readers on the general availability venues for the vaccine. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

No claims are made for the novelty of the flu vaccine.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

There does not appear to be a press release associated with this story.

Total Score: 3 of 7 Satisfactory


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