As I began to think about what to say in a blog about the flu, I had to wonder how much it would really matter. What is there to say, that hasn’t been said?
Will it change anyone’s mind? I could go the typical route, discussing the number of deaths this year and the reason for prevention. I also could discuss the ethical responsibility to get immunized. Will everyone still walk away from reading it, digging in deeper to their own beliefs instead of being open?
I am not just talking about those who are anti-vaccine or only anti-flu vaccine, but those who also never seem to find the time in their busy lives to get it — or since they don’t provide direct care — don’t see it as a priority.
So, let me highlight some quick information. More than 50 children have died this year from the flu. Last year, 110 children died and the 2009-2010 strain killed more than 288 children. On average 40% of children who die from the flu have no pre-existing conditions.
Although adult flu deaths are not nationally notifiable, the CDC, based on lab-confirmed rates of the flu, notes the virus has resulted between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010.
Debate surrounds flu vaccine
Beyond the childhood vaccination conversations, the flu vaccine in particular seems to trigger a wide range of responses even from individuals who are vaccinated in all other areas.
When there was an uptick in whooping cough among newborns around 2012, it was strongly suggested mothers get a booster. I didn’t think twice. How could I possibly think I was so much more important that I wouldn’t get that booster to protect another life, whether it was my own son or another newborn?
We all need to participate in herd immunity for those individuals who cannot become vaccinated because of a life-threatening illness. Beyond influenza deaths, the World Health Organization states Immunization averts an estimated 2.5 million child deaths a year.
Each year there is the same push to get everyone vaccinated and the same arguments fly as to why someone will not get the flu vaccine.
Each year, I get my flu shot in the fall —- this last time I went into a walk-in clinic with my boys and we all got it done together. I eat healthy and my own personal life is a combination of both western and eastern medicine.
Evidence-based practice is a combination of clinical judgment, patient preferences and assessment findings. I know that whole, organic food is a great choice, but it is not enough to save me from getting the flu.
There is another group of naysayers who say the flu vaccination is not always effective each year. True, the flu vaccine doesn’t work well with the H3N2 virus, but each flu season is more than just one strain. That is why some people who get vaccinated still get sick.
You just don’t know which strain you will be exposed to in any year; there isn’t just one strain circulating. But each year, the developed flu vaccine does protect against three or four different flu viruses.
As a nurse, I, just like each of you, have passed out untold numbers of medications to patients. Why do we feel the need to criticize the science of immunizations, yet act as if the science that produced any of the medications, chemotherapy agents and other treatments is somehow different? It’s not.
What is different is the bias we are allowing — biases that let us justify our actions and biases that satisfy our emotions. In all of this, I am asking that you don’t play Russian roulette with your life and the lives of others. What is more likely to help, if even a little — getting the shot or skipping it altogether?
As the flu season slows, what can you still do?
1 – Get vaccinated if you haven’t! The CDC recommends people get vaccinated as long as flu viruses are circulating.
2 – Vaccination is a must for healthcare workers. Wearing a mask? Do you wear one once you leave work, too? Protecting others is not just while at your job, but your community, too. You can pass along the virus before showing symptoms, have respiratory symptoms without a fever or just be a carrier.
3 – Encourage everyone who can get the flu vaccine to get one every year.
4 – Remember, this isn’t just about you, it’s also about protecting others.