Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don't Blame Us

Last week when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius held a press conference, telling the American people to “step up” and get the H1N1 or Swine Flu vaccine, I had a sneaking suspicion that we, in the media, would be blamed for people not getting immunized against the Swine flu.

Not surprisingly, I was right. A report has come out that doctors and health care providers across the country have growing concerns that the way the media is covering the Swine Flu “umbrella,” (i.e., the vaccines, controversy, deaths and infectious outbreaks), is contributing to low vaccination rates in parts of the country, especially in major population centers like New York City.

Because there has been an almost non-stop deluge of news about the possibilities of the Swine Flu pandemic, the public may be at greater risk because they’ve stopped listening or paying attention.

Reporting science is a tricky, mercurial venture. If something is cool, like NASA bombing the moon, people will watch because of great computer graphics and pictures simulating blowing a crater out of the lunar surface.

Not so with something as opaque and ephemeral as the flu. News organizations have a hard time finding the right balance of information without turning into a “Science Guy” special or a catastrophic infomercial. If the news tries to explain a concept that takes more than two minutes, people tune it out. When there isn’t enough reporting, whether that perception is accurate or not, health care officials cry foul that they are trying to educate and warn the public about a national health problem and their message is not being broadcasted.

So how are we doing?

I may be biased, but I think our show (Mac and Gaydos on 92.3 KTAR in the afternoon. If you're not in the Phoenix area, got to for more information) does a better-than-average job when it comes to reporting, disseminating and then opining about this would/could-be pandemic known as H1N1.

Because of our own personal biases and natural curiosity, Gaydos and I have made a concerted effort to analyze, but not spew bombast. Since we are not educated as doctors or immunologists, we bring a more populist perspective. Sorting through information, we tell you what we know without the lexicon of a JAMA article.

Gaydos, who is a certifiable hypochondriac, scours the Internet and television for information on the flu, seasonal or Swine, talks to people at the Health Department and calls his doctor brother almost on a daily basis culling the latest information. I, on the other hand, read as much as I can but I don’t panic.

Being superstitious and cautious, I don’t get a flu shot. The only time I got a flu shot was the year I actually got the flu. In my opinion, since getting the shot isn’t a panacea or magic bullet, so I will take my chances.

It’s that type of balanced perspective, our Everyman approach, based on our different personalities, that our show, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t be lumped into the rest of the media who are postulating and speculating on the benefits or the catastrophe of getting a Swine flu vaccination.

We give you information without panic or hyperbole; and we always tell you to seek the advice and opinion of your doctor.

Not many other talk shows or news organizations can say that.

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