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Panel recommends pneumonia vaccine for adult smokers


2 Star

Panel recommends pneumonia vaccine for adult smokers

Our Review Summary

The NY Daily News took a 750-word Associated Press story and chopped it down to 230 words.  It lost much of the important meat in this cut – all to save 500 words. Our comments target this butchered Daily News version.

The Daily News version cut out these important elements of the original AP story:

  • cost and cost-effectiveness questions;
  • concerns that the new vaccinations may be considered overtreatment in otherwise healthy younger smokers;
  • the only interview with an independent source;
  • any discussion of the inefficacy of the vaccine in younger people or of the fact that there is no booster available, even though protection drops off after 5-10 years.

The chief deficiencies of either version of the article are that the reader is left without a sense of how effective the vaccine might be in the newly-targeted populations.  The article could have been improved with an attempt at quantification of benefits or numbers needed to vaccinate as well as with richer interviews of more disinterested experts who could have filled in these areas.  Some vague areas in the article are misleading: the vaccine does not in the best of circumstances prevent lung infection; pneumococcal infection is not synonymous with "pneumonia;"  the vaccine may have no "booster" but revaccination is a common practice; and not all smokers are alike, making it unlikely that the CDC would recommend the vaccination indiscriminately.  After reading the article, the reader should be left wondering what the health benefit might be of this strategy, but fairly confident that more vaccine will be sold and administered.

And readers of the shortened NY Daily News article  got even less.  If 230 words is all you can invest in a story like this, you might as well give up the space to the comics section or Sudoku.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The original Associated Press story mentions the cost of of Pneumovax $30, and the original AP story also had questions about cost effectiveness of vaccinating younger, otherwise healthy college-age smokers.

But both points were cut out in the version published by the NY Daily News. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention the number of adult smokers under age 65 who would need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of pneumonia.  There was little data on this point in the source material, which the story should have noted. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The original AP story mentions that the vaccine may not be very effective and may be considered overtreatment in otherwise healthy younger smokers.  But the NY Daily News cut out that part in what it published.  Neither version mentioned potential side effects of the vaccine, which might include pain if adminstered via the muscle, and allergic reaction, though this is rare.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not provide any quantitative evidence on which the new vaccination recommendations were based; however, there are no publicly-available data provided by the CDC or ACIP to report.  The story fails to note this lack of evidence, or question experts on this point. The story does note that smokers are four times more likely to develop pneumonia than non-smokers of the same age. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story mentions mortality from pneumonia infections in adults over 65 and notes that death from pneumonia is younger people–even smokers– is relatively rare. 


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

Not Satisfactory

The story could have done a better job with sources. In the original AP story there were two sources quoted, one of whom works for the CDC which issued the recommendations, and the other is independent.  But the NY Daily News cut out the independent source interview. The story might have included a pulmonologist not on the recommending panel, or at a primary care physician, to give perspective on the current evidence and clinical implications of vaccinating 31 million adult smokers while providing smoking cessation counseling.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The original AP story discussed the inefficacy of the vaccine in younger people and mentions that there is no booster available, even though protection drops off after 5-10 years.  But the NY Daily News deleted that section.  The story does not mention how smoking cessation counseling will be administered with vaccine.  The story also mentions deaths from pneumonia in those over 65, but we are not told how pneumonia is typically treated in this population and in younger people, or in smokers in particular.  We don’t know how many smokers need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of invasive infection; we don’t know how many cases will be prevented by adopting this new strategy. This uncertainty is not made clear in this article. 


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


The story explains that the vaccination is already in use for people over age 65. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Recommended pneumonia vaccinations in older adults and those with compromised immune and respiratory systems is not new.  The story focused on new recommendations that all adult smokers be vaccinated.

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


There isn’t any evidence that the story relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory


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