The Big Story Blog

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

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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.

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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.