Flu jab cuts heart attack deaths ??

3 Sep

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 12.48.53Last week the Daily Express reported a study from Australia suggesting that the winter flu vaccine had a positive effect on heart attack deaths amongst middle aged people, and thus was a very cheap way for the NHS to cut spending on heart related treatment. This story offers a couple of really good opportunities to get students to think rationally.

Just by getting students to read the whole of the Express’s story it becomes rapidly clear that whilst the headline refers to heart attack deaths, the study didn’t actually ever look at people who had died from heart attacks. This sort of exercise seems like a very simple way of getting students to delve a little further into stories, and not to take them at face value.

This story becomes a good deal more interesting if one delves even deeper into the original research (Full details can be found on the excellent NHS Choices site). The point that appealed to me, and seems like it would grab the attention of students is that the original study was financed by GlaxoSmithKline that produces a flu vaccine. Or course, this doesn’t necessarily suggest any impropriety on the part of the paper’s authors but it does impact on how a reader interprets the study.

As currently in the process of writing a new lecture on the UK’s MMR vaccine fiasco, and thus anything that gets students to focus on all the details of a study (including where the funding came from) seems really useful.





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