CauseScience reader question: Influenza vaccination and tired anti-vaccine talking points #science

fbcsThis is the first CauseScience reply to a question from a reader (via facebook, image above)!! The reader asked what CauseScience makes of the flu vaccine, and posted a BMJ article from Peter Doshi about the influenza vaccine, “Influenza: marketing vaccine by marketing disease.”

First off, as posted on facebook, CauseScience supports the use of all vaccines that have been scientifically proven effective and safe… including the influenza vaccine.

In reply to the BMJ article. I would first direct readers to a blog post from Poxes Blog here, which looks at Doshi’s credentials and addresses many of the points made in the paper. In summary –  Doshi, who is not an epidemiologist or statistician, does not seem to understand how estimates of flu deaths are calculated or the nuances of influenza vaccine effectiveness (nasal spray vs. injection). Doshi under-emphasizes the dangers of the flu, and over-emphasizes the risks associated with vaccination, which are not beyond what is normal for a typical vaccine. Unfortunately, vaccines do carry some health risks, but for most people these risks are offset by their effectiveness. Just today on facebook I saw this article posted by a friend, ‘Widower of flu victim urges people to get flu shots.’ Clearly the flu can kill.

The other arguments made by Doshi are standard fare for anti-vaccine activists. The familiar claims that vaccines are not effective and are overly dangerous. However, to support these arguments they cherry pick data, use correlation to denote causation, and ignore broader swings in data and focus on single points. On mortality, Doshi makes the tired claim that mortality decreased prior to widespread vaccination, while ignoring the facts that mortality can decrease in that period due to better healthcare, sanitation, nutrition etc. However, incidence of vaccine preventable disease in the same period would show a dramatic reduction with implementation of vaccination. In addition, when vaccine rates drop, disease incidence increases, more supportive evidence of the effectiveness of vaccines.

While Doshi’s article does perhaps have points about improving vaccine effectiveness and reporting, it is hard to take it seriously with so much wrong, misleading, anti-vaccination blather. Unfortunately this article has made the anti-vaccine rounds many many times since it was published in 2013.

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