Four times the flu fun
James M. Berklan
Mixed emotions is the best way to describe my feelings about super-powered flu vaccinations. Just like anyone else, I like to know I'm getting a good return on my buck.
An item in Tuesday's McKnight's Daily Update announced: “Extra-strength flu vaccines reduce hospitalizations.” So, “extra strength” must be like when they put a few more grains of active ingredient in aspirin, I thought to myself.
But, no. The article immediately revealed researchers are talking FOUR TIMES the strength of a regular flu shot. This would be four times the sporadically effective shot that is already so controversial among many healthcare professionals, especially in long-term care? Well, if nothing else, such an elixir ought to close up significant coverage holes, I thought.
Then, I read the numbers. More than 50,000 seniors took part in the study (impressive) at more than 800 nursing facilities around the country (also impressive). It's the largest study of its kind to date.
Then, among those who took the 400% dose … there were 1% fewer (not so impressive) hospital admissions. The rate of incidence fell from 20.9% to 19.7%.
It might be just a journalist's sense of math shining though. But shouldn't four times the strength deliver more dramatic results than that? I know I'm not the only one who has had that reaction, even if it reveals a breathtaking lack of appreciation for macroeconomics.
For every 83 seniors in the study getting the megadose, one person was spared having to go to the hospital, researchers said. Four times the potential controversy to alleviate 1 in 83? How do you like those odds? I imagine if you're the 1, you like them pretty fine. But there's no way to pinpoint which specific people would benefit other than to extrapolate that thousands fewer would land in the hospital, according to researchers.
Now even the most math-deficient among us can start to appreciate how the savings dollars could gain steam that way. Multiply even just 1,000 by the cost of an over-priced hospital box of facial tissues and you start to get the idea.
But then there are the naysayers, who shout four times the volume of normal protesters even when regular-strength flu vaccine doses are given. Who knows how loud they would cry out with quadruple-vaccine? If history has taught us anything, we could soon find out.
If an advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pushes to make the quadruple dose the norm, in fact, we'll definitely find out. Keep an eye on McKnight's for updates … and if you can't get your eyes on one of those, just keep your ears tuned to any open window. They'll surely register the outcome of any decision.
James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.