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 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.
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: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/rr/rr55e209.pdf ). The majority of the savings is in reductions of sick time due to illness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No claims are made for the novelty of the flu vaccine.
There does not appear to be a press release associated with this story.