Several years ago, comedian Bill Maher claimed that only “idiots” get the swine flu vaccine:

When Maher elaborated on his views during his HBO show, he made a number of statements that clearly are not supported by scientific evidence:

Mr. Maher questioned letting someone stick “a disease into your arm,” wrongly implying that the flu shot contains a live virus. The flu shot is a killed vaccine. (Only the nasal mist vaccine contains a weakened live virus.)

He said he did not believe that healthy people were vulnerable to dying from the new H1N1 virus. This contradicts statements from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that young, healthy people from ages 5 to 24 appear particularly vulnerable to this flu. About a third of the 76 children who have died of H1N1 since April have had no underlying health problems.

Mr. Maher also discouraged pregnant women from getting vaccinated. Studies show pregnant women are among the most vulnerable to serious complications from H1N1.

He has also said flu shots increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease — a false assertion that has been disseminated on the Internet by quacks.

This year’s influenza vaccine has performed poorly in elderly patients. According to Maher, this proves that his earlier anti-flu shot statements were correct.

However, Maher neglects to point out that the vaccine was somewhat efficacious in younger patients: “Overall, the vaccine’s effectiveness is a moderate 56 percent, which means those who receive a shot have a 56 percent lower chance of winding up at the doctor with the flu.”

It’s no wonder vaccine. But people (particularly non-elderly people) aren’t idiots if they think a 56 percent reduction in risk is better than nothing.


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