The Big Story Blog

The Big Story Blog: October 26, 2011 Archive

Research forces a new look at flu vaccines

Posted at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Health

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(MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)

It's been the shot for decades. The influenza vaccine is an annual right of passage for millions of people. It's turned into a civic duty of sorts and it's hard not to feel a little bit invincible after you get it.

Turns out, though, it's not quite the armor we thought.

News came late Tuesday that research led by the University of Minnesota shows flu vaccines work on only about 59 percent of the population -- far less than previously believed-- and that children and seniors may benefit the least.

We'll take a deep look today at the research and news around the flu vaccine and its effectiveness. Post below with any questions or insights or contact us directly.

Here are some of the things we know this morning.

1.) The efficacy of flu vaccines may be vastly overestimated. The findings of University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm and three other national flu researchers screened thousands of flu studies published since the 1960s "and found only a handful that adequately measured the effectiveness of flu vaccine. They say most of the published studies vastly overestimated the benefits of receiving the vaccine," MPR News reporter Lorna Benson writes.

Past studies have showed vaccine to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing flu in healthy adults. The Osterholm paper says 59 percent is closer to reality.

2.) Flu spray may not work. Besides the shot, researchers also questioned the nasal spray version of the vaccine. The Star Tribune reports:

Flu vaccines may have had little, if any, effect during some flu seasons, according to the report...The most common flu shot, which uses an inactivated flu virus, had no noticeable impact in four out of 12 seasons studied. The nasal spray version, which is made with a live virus, had no apparent effect in three out of 12 seasons.

3.) 59 percent is better than nothing. You may hear a lot in coming days from anxious public health officials worried the latest research will convince the public a flu shot isn't worth it. That's the message even from those who were part of the U-led study.

Minnesota state epidemiologist Kris Ehresmann says the research still demonstrated that the vaccines work for many people. That's the point she'll continue to make to the public.


Wednesday 10/26/2011
Vaccines not the flu fighters we thought?

Posted at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Hed

This flu season, U.S. manufacturers estimate they will distribute as many as 173 million doses of flu vaccine. The heavy promotion and easy access to the vaccine gives the impression that anyone who is immunized will be protected from flu. But the new analysis of flu studies by researchers suggests that's not the case for many people.

Need-to-read stories on the flu, vaccine

Posted at 8:45 AM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Health

We'll be looking for stories and insight today on the flu and a new report showing the vaccine we all take each year isn't the protection we thought.

Here's what we're reading and listening to this morning.

-- The study found "major holes and gaps'' in the vaccine given to tens of millions of Americans every year to prevent influenza and its complications, the Star Tribune reports.

-- 42 percent of Americans are not planning on getting a flu shot this year, according to a recent survey conducted for pharmacy giant CVS.

-- MPR News health reporter Lorna Benson was on Morning Edition this morning. We'll post that later this morning and we're hoping to have a separate interview with her up this afternoon.

Click on the play button to listen to her reporting on the vaccine study.

Minnesota Today editor Michael Olson has pulled together a feed of flu stories from around Minnesota and the U.S. Check it out below.

Any other stories or links on flu and the flu vaccine we should care about? Post them below or contact us directly.

Myths and reality about the flu shot

Posted at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Health

Pharmacy giant CVS administers a lot of flu shots across its 7,200 stores. So it's recent national survey on public attitudes and misconceptions about the vaccine are fascinating.

Here are some of the survey highlights.

-- 49 percent think flu shots are mainly for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions, despite recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control that everyone ages 6 months and over should get an annual flu shot.

-- 35 percent believe flu shots can give people the flu. Not true. The CDC says: The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection.

-- 25 percent do not think flu shots work very well. Interesting observation given today's story.

-- 22 percent think flu shots can protect people for up to two years. Officials say it needs to be done every year because, as CVS notes, "the immunity provided by the vaccine declines over the course of the season."

Couple of other interesting bits from the CVS survey:

African American adults are more likely to have misconceptions about flu shots and are somewhat less likely than others to get a flu shot, yet are among the most concerned about picking up germs.

Hispanic adults are more likely than others to do all the right things to avoid getting and transmitting the flu, and are among the most likely to plan to get a flu shot this year.

Check out the CDC's entire list of flu and flu shot misconceptions.

Is a flu shot still in your future? Tell us

Posted at 11:00 AM on October 26, 2011 by Jon Gordon
Filed under: Health

Health officials still recommend flu shots, even as a new report says the vaccine is not as effective as thought.

We asked fans of MPR News on Facebook: Are you now less likely to get a flu shot?

Flu vaccines less effective? Questions. Answers.

Posted at 3:27 PM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Health

MPR News health reporter Lorna Benson's been busy today answering questions on new research showing flu vaccines work on only about 59 percent of the population -- far less than previously believed-- and that children and seniors may benefit the least.

We caught up with her this afternoon to ask a few more quick questions about the flu study and what happens next.

3 things to know about vaccines and the flu fight

Posted at 4:46 PM on October 26, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Health

20111025_fluvaccine4_33.jpg
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

You can still trust that flu vaccine. You should get the shot, even if it's not nearly as effective as you thought.

We came to terms with that today as we chased stories and insight into the new research led by the University of Minnesota showing flu vaccines work on only about 59 percent of the population -- far less than previously believed-- and that children and seniors may benefit the least.

Here are three things we learned today.

1.) Not the pop we thought.
The findings of University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm and three other national flu researchers screened thousands of flu studies published since the 1960s "and found only a handful that adequately measured the effectiveness of flu vaccine. They say most of the published studies vastly overestimated the benefits of receiving the vaccine," MPR News reporter Lorna Benson writes.

Past studies have showed vaccine to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing flu in healthy adults. The Osterholm paper says 59 percent is closer to reality.

Surveys show only about 42 percent of adults get a flu shot, so we're really talking about a surprisingly low percentage of the public receiving an effective flu immunity.

2.) Not swayed by the data. Judging by what we saw on social media today, the news about the flu vaccine being less effective than previously known doesn't seem to be changing a lot of minds. Minnesotans who talked to us on Facebook today didn't seem phased by the new research.

flufacebook.jpg

We're hoping insurers feel the same way when it comes to continuing to pay for flu shots regardless of effect.

3.) Myths abound. We were struck by a recent survey by pharmacy giant CVS showing some surprising, and incorrect, beliefs.

Among them, 35 percent believe flu shots can give people the flu. Not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control: The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection.

The survey, published a few weeks ago, found 25 percent of people don't think flu shots work very well.

Interesting observation given today's news.

Learn anything today about vaccines and the flu that we missed? Post something below or add to our conversation on Facebook.

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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