“Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade is spreading misinformation about vaccines as this year’s particularly deadly flu epidemic spreads across the United States.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a practicing internist and Fox News contributor, joined Monday’s show to explain why this flu season is especially dangerous, and to encourage viewers to get flu shots.
“The flu shot, which I still say everybody out there should get, is about 30-percent effective, but it actually decreases spread around the household, it decreases severity, and it’s very smart to get it,” Siegel said during the show. “Of the children that have died, 80 percent of them in the past hadn’t gotten a flu shot.”
But Kilmeade dismissed the medical professional’s advice, instead echoing a debunked talking point of conspiracy theorists known as anti-vaxxers.
Here’s how it went down: As the segment wrapped up, Siegel asked the show’s hosts if they’ve had their annual flu shots. Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt confirmed they did. But their colleague, on the other hand …
Kilmeade: No, I have not gotten one.
Earhardt: He doesn’t get them.
Siegel: I’m going to try to give Brian one off the air.
Earhardt: He won’t do it.
Kilmeade: Only 30 percent, people are saying ―
Siegel: You have to protect your girls.
Kilmeade: Right. Alright, but they’ve got to build up their immunity, too.
Kilmeade essentially told the show’s viewers ― of which there are an average 1.6 million, according to Nielsen ― that opting not to get a flu shot is a better way for people to “build up their immunity.” That’s just false, and spreading that type of misinformation to an audience that large is irresponsible and dangerous.
Vaccines boost your immune system ― not weaken it. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, vaccines help your immune system fight infections “faster and more effectively.” They also often provide “long-lasting immunity to serious diseases without the risk of serious illness,” the DHS website reports. So it’s important to get a flu shot every year.
By one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculation, flu kills an average of 6,309 to 23,607 people each year. This can vary substantially. For example, from the 2010 to 2014 seasons, the yearly flu death count varied from 12,000 one year to 56,000 the next. This year’s flu season started earlier and peaked earlier than usual, and the most prevalent form of the virus is particularly nasty.
According to the CDC, it’s safer to get vaccinated than to risk illness in an effort to “obtain immune protection” by getting the flu.
“Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes,” the CDC says on its website. “Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults.”
It’s especially problematic for Kilmeade to imply that his teenage daughters aren’t getting vaccinations so they can “boost their immunity.” Children are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to the flu. The CDC reports 37 children have died from flu-related illness this season, compared with eight from the same time period last year.
Kilmeade also seemed to point out that this year’s vaccine is only 30-percent effective against H3N2 ― this year’s most prevalent flu strain. But it’s still important to get the vaccine because it can reduce some of the most severe outcomes of the illness, according to a 2017 report from the CDC.
“Studies have shown that vaccines prevent against serious illness and death,” Dr. Deborah Lehman, an infectious diseases specialist and a professor of clinical pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Medical Express. “Even if it doesn’t provide full protection, the vaccine may provide some partial protection.”
A representative for Fox News did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
This article has been updated to include additional information from the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC.