This story makes the main point clear: that a single dose of the new H1N1 flu vaccine may be effective enough that the initial plan to give people two doses won’t be necessary.
However, important caveats about the small size and rushed nature of these preliminary trials are buried deep in the story, where they would be missed by readers who see only the lead paragraphs. While readers do get a sense that officials have been trying decide on the best policies despite scant evidence, they could come away from this story with the mistaken impression that officials now have all the evidence they need about how the new vaccine will work. For instance, there is no mention that these small trials cannot answer concerns about of the potential risk of Guillain-Barre disease that was seen in rare cases after vaccination against the 1976 swine flu.
Also, juxtaposing the annual death toll from seasonal flu with reports of H1N1 flu spreading widely in schools could lead to the unsupported impression that many thousands of students are likely to die from H1N1 flu.
The story does tell the news that officials will probably change their recommendation and tell people to get only one H1N1 flu shot, but at almost 900 words long, it could have told more.
The story should have mentioned the typical range of charges for seasonal flu and whether there would be any difference in the price of the H1N1 flu shots.
Near the top, the story notes that the new trials indicate the H1N1 flu shots appear to be as effective as seasonal flu shots. However, there is no explanation of the phrase that “75 percent and 96 percent of vaccinated people should be protected with one dose.” Does it mean that that percentage of people won’t get sick? This story uses the term “effective” without defining just what it means for individuals or society.
The story says that the participants in the H1N1 flu vaccine trials reported side effects similar to those seen with seasonal flu vaccination; that is, almost half had some soreness or rash at the injection site or a headache.
However, the story should have pointed out that these small and very brief trials don’t reveal whether the new H1N1 flu shots may be linked to the sort of rare cases of Guillain-Barre diseases that were seen during the rushed attempt to vaccinate people against a variety of swine flu in 1976.
The story explains that the trials involved just a few hundred people and were rushed through so that health officials could get a preliminary sense of the best way to use limited H1N1 vaccine supplies and that more and longer trials are underway to develop better evidence. However, caveats about the trials are buried deep in the story, so readers skimming the lead paragraphs would get the impression that the results are more conclusive than they actually are.
The story reports that the seasonal flu “every year kills 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes 200,000” and that H1N1 swine flu is already causing outbreaks in schools. As a result of reporting these disconnected facts, without also reporting anything about what is known about the severity of swine flu, readers may get the impression that there will be widespread swine flu deaths at schools, perhaps even concluding that if swine is likely to hit more people than seasonal flu, that the death toll could be higher than the 36,000 figure mentioned.
Although there is a great deal of uncertainty about how many people will be hospitalized or die following swine flu infection, the story should have mentioned something about the outcomes seen so far.
This story points out that several of the trials were done by vaccine manufacturers. It quotes government officials who were not directly involved in those trials. However, as noted above, the story is a primarily summary of official statements. There are no quotes from independent experts in infectious diseases.
The focus of this story is on the effectiveness of different immunization schedules and doses. However, as part of the background information, it could have noted that even after receiving a flu shot, public health officials are urging people to minimize close contact with other people, use good hygiene, and stay home when sick in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading or catching flu viruses.
The story reports that H1N1 vaccinations are expected to be available in mid-October and that seasonal flu shots are available now.
The story reports that the H1N1 flu vaccine is new and makes clear the distinction between H1N1 flu shots and seasonal flu shots.
The story does not appear to be based on a press release; but it does appear to be primarily a summary of news conferences and official statements.