Delta In-Flight Ad Spurs Backlash From Flu Vaccine Advocates

Response leads to Delta review of video approval process.

ByABC News
November 11, 2011, 2:30 PM

Nov. 11, 2011 — -- A video commercial sponsored by a non-profit, anti-vaccine organization now playing on Delta flights has come under fire by a pediatrician organization, prompting the airlines to review its approval process for in-flight programming.

The nearly three-minute public service announcement put on by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) describes alternative methods to preventing the flu besides getting the flu shot.

The video also includes a statement by the president and co-founder of NVIC, Barbara Loe Fisher, saying the flu shot doesn't effectively protect against nearly 80 percent of flu cases.

In a letter to Delta, the American Academy of Pediatrics president, Robert Block, urged the airline company to consider removing the ads.

Displaying NVIC's message on Delta flights is, "putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases," Block wrote.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 49,000 Americans die from flu-related complications each year.

According to ABC News' chief health and medical editor, Dr Richard Besser, the ad leaves out the importance of the flu vaccine.

"Flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the flu," said Besser. "This was not made clear in the ads from the National Vaccine Information Center."

In a response to the AAP, Delta conceded that the video does not point to vaccines as the primary source for flu prevention.

"Therefore, we have changed our internal review processes and procedures to help ensure that submitted content is vetted differently going forward," Delta's general manager of occupational health, Barbara Martin, wrote in response.

Delta declined to comment to ABC News on specific changes it plans to make to its review process.

Fisher told ABC News she was shocked to hear that Delta is reviewing its approval method.

"This is the first time I've heard about it, it's a little concerning to me," said Lowe, who added that the airline initially approached her organization about creating the PSA for its flights.

"I really feel that when you see this video, it doesn't tell people not to vaccinate," said Lowe. "It talks about becoming educated."

The video led to an online petition calling for removal of the ads. The petition has received more than 2,000 signatures.

According to the petition, "Putting travelers onto an airplane, where they are put in close proximity, if not direct contact, with other travelers for extended periods of time while discouraging them to do everything possible to protect themselves and each other is simply irresponsible at best, and downright dangerous at worst."

The paid commercial will run on Delta flights through November, which complies with the two parties' contract.

This is not the first time NVIC has come under fire for its public service announcements. In March 2011, the AAP wrote a letter asking CBS to remove NVIC's video ad that played on the station's Jumbotron in Times Square.

In December, the vaccine advocacy group Every Child by Two will display its PSA on Delta flights calling for everyone 6 months and older to get the flu shot.

"What concerns me is that there's an attempt to demonize consumer advocates and to isolate and eliminate us from the public conversation about an important public health topic," said Lowe.