NYT's columnist Ariel Kaminer uses science to outline benefits of flu vaccine

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After New York Times columnist Ariel Kaminer conducted a risk-to-benefit analysis of seasonal flu shots in her most recent article, ACSH staffers ran a similar analysis and concluded that while Ms. Kaminer’s science-based discussion on the safety of the vaccine is a good for her readers, the article’s headline “Flu Shots: No Panic, Just ‘No’” is not.

Despite the fact that the headline may deter people from getting vaccinated against the flu this year, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross believes the article itself is very factual and should be “immensely reassuring to people receiving flu shots.”

According to Ms. Kaminer, people are generally more interested in getting the shot when vaccines are in short supply — such as during the H1N1 (“swine flu”) pandemic last year. But this year, when shots are available in plentiful quantities, people don’t feel the same pressure to get inoculated.

“Maybe every year we should announce there is a severe shortage of flu vaccines. Then everyone would run to their doctor to demand one,” suggests ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

When Ms. Kaminer asked some people why they’ll be skipping the flu vaccine this year, here were some of the responses:

“I like to think of myself as young and healthy,” explains Ben Madgett, a consultant in his early 30s. Ms. Kaminer points out, however, that young people are actually more susceptible to the flu during certain seasons — including the 2009-10 season when young people and pregnant women were most vulnerable.

Michiel Gevers, a 27-year-old lawyer visiting from Belgium says he avoids the shot because “it’s not a bad thing to build up some resistance,” which may sound reasonable until Ms. Kaminer informs us that’s exactly what a vaccine does — builds up your resistance.

Finally, Brittany Hannah of Georgia resists getting a flu shot because it may cause her to get sick, but as Ms. Kaminer observes, the vaccine does not contain any infectious viruses, and therefore cannot give you influenza. The so-called “live” vaccine is infectious, but is attenuated so that immunity is conferred without the possibility of transmitting the actual flu infection.

We tallied up the points and found that Ms. Kaminer’s sound science-based discussion conquers the anti-flu vaccine folks by a whopping score of three-to-zero, only further giving credence to our message: Flu vaccines are safe, so get yours today!