Airborne toxic event

Longtime readers know my fondness of comparing the healthcare industry to the airline industry (based on similar goals of training, rituals of safety, and differing approaches to error, for starters).

Recently I've learned of a new intersection between medicine and aviation, when Delta chose to air ads to their captive cabin audience purchased by NVIC, the National Vaccine Information Center. The ads talk about staying healthy, maintaining good hygiene, and asking your doctor questions about the different flu shots available -- to stay informed and keep all the options open.

Sounds ... innocuous ... right?

Sure, the CDC recommends the influenza vaccine as the single best defense against influenza deaths, though additional hygiene measures can help. But what's the harm in asking questions of your doctor? Being informed?

Well, during the three-minute informercial, the NVIC website URL is shown. Their site is the opposite of information -- a mixture of pseudoscience and innuendo, laced with bromides about patriotism and personal freedom.

I recently flew Delta and didn't see (or recall seeing) this ad, though I do remember a loud car commercial right after takeoff, that I couldn't stop, or quiet. Inflight advertising is said to be unusually effective at prompting recall among passengers, well after landing. Since a fair number of people report some upper respiratory issues after flying, I've got to admit the NVIC initiative is well-planned.

But dangerous. In the words of AAP president, Dr. Robert Block:

The AAP and many other child health organizations have worked hard to protect children and their families from unfounded and unscientific misinformation regarding vaccine safety. The influenza vaccine is safe and effective. 
By providing advertising space to an organization like the NVIC, which opposes the nation’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether, you are putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Diseases like influenza can have serious consequences. From September 2010 to August 2011, 115 children died from influenza disease, most of whom were unvaccinated.

petition is circulating to ask Delta to stop putting their passengers at risk. For their part, Delta has said that they'll change their ad purchasing policy, and the NVIC ads will only run until the end of the month. Wolfram Alpha suggests that, at about 200,000 passengers a day, that's another three million viewings of the informercial.

I rounded the daily passenger rates up slightly, for the Thanksgiving rush. Maybe, though, we could round it down -- #dontflydelta is trending on Twitter.

At the recent BWELA conference social health track, a bunch of us were talking about ways healthcare providers could affect positive change, in a media sphere where stories, novelty and fear usually trump statistics and uncontroversial, boring truth. This sounds like just the opportunity we were looking for -- pushing for a measurable outcome (Delta stopping the ads early), fighting pseudoscience with evidence-based recommendations, and using social networks for a decidedly anti-viral purpose.