Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't believe The London Free Press; Get a flu shot.

It is interesting to note the headline was changed on the online story.

 A lot of people do not get a flu shot. They don't believe in them. They argue: Flu shots can't be trusted; Flu shots don't always confer protection. And now my local paper, The London Free Press, has given these people more ammunition in their fight against the annual flu shot. The paper calls the vaccine used in Ontario "the dregs."

Well, in my humble opinion, when it comes to health stories, it is the local paper that cannot be trusted. The stories are factually correct but the spin often seems misleading, at least to me.

According to the newspaper, Ontario seniors are getting the dregs when it comes to flu shots. The paper reports a super flu shot for seniors is widely available in the States and it is a "game changer." The quote comes from a spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine manufacturer. The quote overstates the value of the new vaccine. It's good, it's an improvement, but it is not a "game changer."

Other medical experts, not employed by Sanofi Pasteur, have called the new flu shot a mild improvement. Why is a 25% improvement, as reported by the paper, not causing more excitement? The numbers. The New York Times reported it this way, "The key finding was that 1.4 percent of the first group [the group given the improved vaccine] contracted the flu versus 1.9 percent of the second group [given the older formulation.]" The spread between the two vaccines was about one half of one percent. In this case, this translates into a 25% improvement. And in this case, such an improvement is not a "game changer."

Consumer Reports warned its readers not to be in a "rush to get the high-dose vaccine." The vaccine, called Fluzone High-Dose, is only "slightly more likely than the standard vaccine to prevent the flu in people 65 and up." CR is in agreement with The Times about the value of the new flu shot for seniors.

CR goes on to report that the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the high-dose vaccine might be more likely to cause side effects, including headache, muscle aches, and fever. The Consumer Reports medical experts believe older people should weigh the possible risks and benefits of the new vaccine before getting inoculated.

When it comes to the new 'quadrivalent' flu shot, Consumer Reports told its readers to consider it. The magazine went on to warn readers that "unlike the standard vaccine, not all insurers cover it, so you might have to pay out of pocket, about $38." In Ontario the flu shot is covered by OHIP. In the States there are uninsured Americans who cannot afford either the improved flu vaccine or the older, less expensive trivalent flu shot.

Back in the day that I worked at the newspaper, The Free Press arranged for flu shots for all staff. They had a nurse spend the day in the building. Everyone was encouraged to get vaccinated. No one bad-mouthed the flu shot.

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