This post is in response to Dr. Osterholm's comments to the New York Times. While we agree with the spirit of investigation to find a better, more effective influenza vaccine, those of us who are practicing physicians suggest a more appropriate balance to the statements made.
We would like to encourage the public of New York and New Jersey to NOT interpret the comments in Dr. Osterholm's article as, "don't get the influenza vaccine because it is useless".
While we may agree the influenza vaccine is not as effective as other vaccines, it may keep you out of the hospital or from dying. We encourage the reader to take a look at those previously healthy, unvaccinated children who died. These were tragic, potentially preventable outcomes. As a practicing pediatrician, we have enough difficulties overcoming the anti-vaccination movement that was spawned by fictitious research. Such comments about influenza vaccination should be balanced with the statement, "while it is suboptimal, it's all we've got right now".
We were surprised to see the New York Times suggesting the influenza season has not yet begun- this is inaccurate, as early influenza activity has already been documented in the Pacific NW, for example. This is a drift year for A/H3N2 seasonal influenza, which caused a fair amount of intensive care unit strain in Australia and New Zealand just a few short months ago- this is the strain that prompted an updating of the Type A component of the vaccine. The national influenza forecast urges the public to consider vaccination given we have early indicators of influenza activity likely due to this drifted virus.
Further, there are implications for unvaccinated, post-Sandy victims who may have spent time in an emergency shelter.
Vaccination for influenza, while imperfect, is still the best preventive measure until the bureaucracy considers large scale trials for influenza vaccine efficacy to be a research priority.
James M. Wilson V, M.D.
Chief of Station
Ascel Bio Black Canyon Infectious Disease Forecast Station
Founder & Managing Partner
Ascel Bio LLC