Awful Headline (and Story) of the Day

By Keith Kloor | January 18, 2013 12:48 pm

Flu Shots Are Damn Dangerous

No, that’s not from the Huffington Post. It’s the headline to a Daily Beast story that is beyond the pale. It’s mind-boggling that the Daily Beast–a high-profile media outlet–would give space to this piece of misinformation and scare-mongering. The author’s intent is obviously to sow doubt about the effectiveness and safety of the flu vaccine:

Everyone from your doctor to your neighbor to the barista at Starbucks will tell you it’s a good idea to get a flu shot, particularly if you’re pregnant or elderly. But how much do we really know about the vaccine?

Yikes! For starters, a good place to go for flu vaccine facts is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, a new study published this week by the New England Journal of Medicine reaffirmed, as CBS reports, that for pregnant women, there is “no evidence that the vaccine increases the risk of losing a fetus, and may prevent some deaths.”

Because I’m traveling I don’t have time to to do much more than point out how egregiously irresponsible the Daily Beast headline and story are. I’ll also point you to Michael Specter at the New Yorker, who earlier this week wrote a post urging people to get a flu shot. He explains:

The [flu] vaccine has a very strong safety profile. (Each year public-health officials select three strains of the influenza virus that, based on surveillance data, are most likely to cause the most illness that season. It’s educated guess-work but it explains why you need a new one each year. Scientists are working on a more universal solution.)

People often say, “I got the vaccine, and three days later I was sick.“ That can happen, but it probably won’t be influenza and it certainly won’t be from the vaccine. This is the season for all sorts of viruses, and people often use the word “flu” to signify any ailment that strikes them between Thanksgiving and the day of the Yankees’ home opener.

There was a huge outcry recently when the Atlantic magazine published on its website an advertorial from the Church of Scientology. (The ad was quickly pulled.) What the Daily Beast does with its piece casting doubt on the efficacy and safety of the flu vaccine is 1000 times worse.

UPDATE: Right after publishing this post, I noticed that the Daily Beast changed its headline to: “Facts for Fighting the Flu.” The piece itself remains unchanged, apparently, which means it is not filled with facts, but distortions.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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