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Pediatric deaths from influenza (current week circled in red), reported to CDC
click for bigger picture

There's this: Each week during flu season, the Center for Disease Control publishes the results of national flu surveillance data and gives us an idea of how things are going. This happens to be a moderately severe flu season, and the chart above, from Friday's data, illustrates pediatric deaths from flu–nine this week alone, 29 so far this year.

And then, alas, there's this noted in Salon:

The Daily Beast’s shameful anti-vaccine rant
Radio yakker Don Imus' wife given space for a fact-free anti-flu shot diatribe
Influenza is a killer. While estimates vary, the best guesstimate is that thousands of adults along with as many as hundreds of kids die from flu and influenza-related pneumonia each year.

In theory, influenza is preventable. In practice, the flu vaccine isn't as efficacious as one would desire, but it does work over 60% of the time (more in younger patients) and is universally accepted by clinicians and public health professionals as a worthy endeavor for the public to participate in, and one of the best tools, in addition to hand washing and staying away from sick people.

tweets against the Daily Beast running of  Dierdre Imus piece that's anti-vaccine
Michael Osterholm at Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy released a recent report decrying the tendency to overhype the effectiveness, nonetheless adding:
He still considers himself a “a pro-vaccine guy,” Dr. Osterholm said.

“I say, ‘Use this vaccine,’ ” he said. “The safety profile is actually quite good. But we have oversold it. Use it — but just know it’s not going to work nearly as well as everyone says.”

The CDC concurs:
What do recent vaccine effectiveness studies show?
Preliminary data for the 2010-2011 influenza season indicate that influenza vaccine effectiveness was about 60% for all age groups combined, and that almost all influenza viruses isolated from study participants were well-matched to the vaccine strains (Unpublished CDC data). A randomized study (by Monto et al  [137 KB, 8 pages]) looking at the 2007-2008 influenza season found trivalent inactivated vaccine (flu shot) protected 7 out of 10 people from influenza illness. Studies show that LAIV works about as well as the flu shot. The main study that led to the licensure of LAIV was one conducted in children that showed that LAIV protected up to 9 out of 10 children vaccinated against the flu. A recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials of LAIV in children found that 2 doses of LAIV in vaccine-naïve children prevented infection with 77% of antigenically similar viruses and 72% of all viruses regardless of antigenic similarity.
Those are the basics on efficacy.

Want safety data, including on thimerosal? Go here and here.

So, how does the Daily Beast handle the issue? By having Dierdre Imus, expert in nothing, infer and imply that flu vaccines don't work and are dangerous.

Join me below the fold for more...

Dierdre Imus:

Though the CDC did guess well with most of the strains circulating this year, even CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden acknowledges that the venerable flu shot is only 62 percent effective in reducing symptoms of the disease. In other words, for every 100 people who get the flu shot, 38 of them will get the flu anyway. That’s after they’ve injected themselves with dead viruses and, in most cases, preservatives made from mercury and other toxins that keep the vaccination fresh. Thimerosal (as it’s commonly listed on the ingredients list) contains approximately 49 percent ethylmercury, and can cause impaired neurological development in children, as well as headaches, respiratory distress, and gastrointestinal damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
As soon as you start reading exaggerated claims about vaccines centered around thimerosal, you know you're going to have to wade through an anti-science rant. See the chart above. Children die from flu. Another incredibly high risk group is pregnant women (including fetal demise), and yet another are the neurologically impaired.

Salon does us a service by summarizing a great collection of tweets reacting to the Dierdre Imus piece. Among the authors are some of the best medical and science writers on the planet.

It's disgraceful that the Daily Beast gives a platform to the fact-challenged, particularly when the risk of harm is far greater from not getting a shot than getting one.

We had a terrific discussion this morning centered around the idea of health care professionals getting or refusing the vaccine. And while the requirements are less for the general public, facts and science really ought to be the basis for the discussion and the decisions.

Yes, wash your hands.  Yes, consider that (at least) 62% efficacy (and better if you're a kid) is nothing to sneeze at. But don't assume that a random celebrity knows what they're talking about when it comes to medicine. Kids are dying from flu every year, and it doesn't have to be. Don't let publicity-seeking "news" magazines interfere with public health decisions just to rack up page views on line.

That's a horrible thing that happens too often as is.

Originally posted to Greg Dworkin on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 02:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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