This story asks a simple, straightforward question that annually affects much of the population — do flu vaccines work, and how well? The story looks at the evidence offered from a host of studies, giving a fair appraisal of what the data does and does not tell us.
[Editor’s note: for another perspective on this issue, see last week’s blog post by Alan Cassels: This flu season, let’s immunize ourselves from the annual infection of exaggerating relative risk reductions.]
Outbreaks of influenza come as regularly as the leaves changing color in the fall. And like the autumn colors, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can change year to year. This story both explains why there is such variability and answers the questions that most people would, or should, have about getting an annual flu shot.
While the story only touches on the costs of flu shots in passing, saying that they’re relatively cheap, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this category. At least at two points in the story, the issue of costs are raised. We would have liked it even better had the story mentioned the actual range of possible costs for the flu vaccine. A quick web search shows the prices ranging from $10 to $30, based on information from the CDC. And free shots are regularly available at public health centers as well.
The story does a good job of explaining what the actual benefits of the influenza vaccine really are. Just as a recent HealthNewsReview.org blog post did, the story goes way beyond the typical media version touting claims of X-percent effectiveness and explains what that means in terms of individual people escaping flu symptoms. This accuracy of interpretation does carry with it, however, one risk: For a public so used to hearing that vaccines are, say, 60 percent effective, actually finding out that they’d only prevent one person from getting symptoms for every 33 people vaccinated may not sound good enough for the lay person.
The story does mention that the risks of negative reactions to getting a flu shot usually center on inflammation at the site of the injection, a comparatively minor side effect. It emphasizes that given such a minimal risk, there are very few harms for getting this protection, minimal though it may be in some years.
The story gives readers the results of numerous meta-studies that compile partial answers on the vaccine’s effectiveness. It also rightly points out the limitations of those studies, and the research they’re based on, in that ethics forbids the kind of control versus placebo trials that could show cause and effect. Nevertheless, the story is clear in pointing out the limitations of the data it presents, giving readers enough information to make their own decisions.
The annual influenza outbreaks offer the possibility for disease-mongering but we feel that’s not the case with this story.
The author of this story compiles ample evidence from reliable and respected independent sources concerning influenza. It does not, however, offer any information concerning conflicts of interest, but with this type of story, we’re hard pressed to see how there would be a conflict.
The story does mention the meager alternatives to influenza vaccination — that is, proper hand washing hygiene and the isolation of flu patients from those free of the disease.
The story offers answers to basic questions about the value of getting an annual flu shot. Those questions are obviously based on the fact that flu vaccines are usually readily available for those who want them. While some years present a possible shortage of vaccine, for most years, vaccination is determined by personal choice, rather than availability.
The story appropriately explains that this vaccine has been around for decades. The story is taking a second look at the vaccine’s effectiveness, which as it explains varies from year to year and may not be as high as most people think.
The story shows no indications that it was based on a news release.