Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Flu shots: Built up and torn down

I know, I know. People are sick and tired of me blogging about flu shots. But, hey, it's my blog and I'll write what I want to - HA! Anyway, here's another chapter in the ongoing saga of the flu shot story arc.

When we last left flu shots, they were being celebrated as not having a shortage. I remember even one source touting that there would a "record" number of flu vaccine available for this year's flu season. So, all is well and good, right?

Apparently not. As fast as our dear friends in the press are talking up the flu shots, the tone this week has changed. According to this article from the Seattle Times, they ask this question, "Is the flu shot benefit overstated?"
The benefits of flu shots for elderly people have been greatly exaggerated, according to researchers at Seattle's Group Health Center for Health Studies and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
I made reference to questionable data in my previous post. Apparently, these researchers are pointing out questionable benefit data for elderly patients to receive the flu shot.
"We find it peculiar that the claims that influenza vaccination can prevent half — or more — of all winter deaths in elderly people have not been more vigorously debated," wrote Jackson and Dr. Lone Simonsen of George Washington University, the lead author of their report, "Mortality benefits of influenza vaccination of elderly people: an ongoing controversy."
So, in a week or two, the positive spin for flu shots will begin again. And, then the week after that, there will be negative stories again. Sure, this sells papers and gets ratings. But, how are patients supposed to decode all this conflicting and confusing information? That's easy. Make an appointment with your physician to talk about it.


Bond said...

Thank goodness I am not old...well...ummm...Maybe I should make that appointment!

Anonymous said...

I find it sort of difficult to believe that any physician is going to say to a healthy-ish patient who specifically asks about flu shots, "no, don't get one." Instead, the physician is going to either say, "Yes, very good idea for you," or "Well, probably not necessary, but it won't hurt you, so go ahead if you're concerned."

(There's probably a specific population of patients who shouldn't get a flu or any other vaccine, but I'm guessing they've already been told that in a "hey, you're on chemotherapy, so don't expose yourself to vaccines, people with colds, etc" sort of way?)

So it's like there's only one possible outcome (in a basically healthy person): yes. If it were a test, you wouldn't do it because the outcome wouldn't change your management, no?

So why wait 6-8 weeks for an appt? Why wait around in an office for half an hour to ask a doctor a question that's going to get basically one response?

Well, the doctor does get to charge for that 15 minute appointment, and they finish in maybe three minutes? So it could really help ease up the schedule! Except probably not really even that.

Zany Mom said...

When my son was on chemo the docs couldn't agree. Half pushed the flu shot, claiming the weakened immune system would make the flu worse; others thought that the weakened immune system likely wouldn't mount a good immune response to the vaccine. And since the immune system was the issue (leukemia) I chose NOT to get the vaccine. No flu (or any other bugs for that matter) for the chemo kid. Now almost 5 years off chemo...

Travis said...

My docs told me I should always get a flu shot because I'm a spleenless Hodgkins Disease survivor. I got them for several years, and then one year I got busy and forgot.

Didn't die, and didn't get the flu. So I experimented the next season and didn't get it. Didn't die, and didn't get the flu.

So - six of one, half dozen of the other, and pick 'em.

Anonymous said...

The benefits have probably been overstated, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater and therefore conclude flu shots are a waste of resources for the elderly.

I think this is one of those things that's just hard to measure accurately.

Mortality is not the only issue here. There's also the cost of excess hospitalizations due to influenza-related complications, and the resulting burden on hospitals. So I'm not convinced that mortality is the only endpoint that's worth measuring.

Some studies are actually suggesting that's more cost-effective to vaccinate kids, because they are far more likely to spread the flu virus.

BTW, that bit about wanting to sell more newspapers? Isn't that the whole point of printing a newspaper?

I know you're rather soured on the media, but I fail to see why it's OK for everyone else to drum up more customers and make money and build up a successful business, but it's not OK, apparently, for newspapers - gasp! - to want to sell their product.

I'm feeling cranky and cynical today. :(

Anonymous said...

My employer combines my sick leave with my annual leave. So if I'm sick and take leave that's less vacation.

The flu shot doesn't cost much, and I'd sure rather be taking vacation than taking leave being sick with the flu!

So I'm in line.

crazy working mom said...

I took it one year. But, I HATE needles. I have a complete and total fear that I will take the vaccine and I'll end up dead. Some fluke bacteria that got into one vile! *Sigh*

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

well doc it's official, it's been a year since i had the ba meeting at my condo and you gave cyber fly shots to everyone! remember? and i already got my real one because we are going to europe in two weeks and will be gone about a month. the doc here said to get it early... here's to another year my friend!

smiles, bee

Mauigirl said...

I am 54 and started getting a flu shot last year. I figure, the flu is horrible, why would you want to get it no matter what your age? Last time I had it 7 years ago I lost my sense of smell for 3 months afterward! (a post-flu effect, apparently). Not being able to taste or smell is awful. I wouldn't go through that again if I can help it!