If I was in charge, the Flu shot would be mandatory for everyone. Influenza is preventable and over the years, I have heard so many excuses that a few years ago, I just started saying to patients” That is not true. There is no evidence for that.” Not to be disrespectful but to start a more informed dialog about the benefits of getting a vaccine for a vaccine preventable illness.
So, it is not perfect each year. So some people get the Flu even if they had the shot. The cases are low and that is not a valid reason to skip the shot. This year the shot does contain the most prevalent strains of the virus. The Flu shot must be administered each year because of changes in the virus. Each year the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) closely monitor the strains of virus present to decide which ones should be included in the flu vaccine. This vaccine can’t give you the flu. However, flu vaccine, like other vaccines, can occasionally cause a reaction. Feeling some response to the shot is not unusual. The best time to get vaccinated is October or November. Children getting a flu shot for the first time will need two doses given 30 days apart. The flu shot is not approved for use in children less than 6 months old.
In residency, I got the flu shot to prevent the risk of my toddler and patients getting Influenza from me. I was caring for a lot of sick patients between my AIDS patients, the nursing home and the Newborn Nursery. When I entered private practice, I started to make sure my patients received a Flu shot. It was not until 1993 that Medicare actually covered the cost of the vaccine. Recommendations have changed over the years and now the basic recommendation is that everyone should get a Flu shot.
I only had Influenza once which I believe was 1992 or 1993 in March of all the worse times to get it. It was one of those years when we had a late start to Flu season. I was so sick that I had to cancel patients. I took one of the older antiviral medications on the market at the time but stopped it because of the side effects. After that experience, I get a shot in September and again in January. I was the boss and I was paying for it so I had that option. I have not had it since. Of course, now I just get one well-timed shot. When I was director of a Prenatal Clinic, we encouraged our pregnant patients, their children and spouses to get the vaccine. It really worked. I don’t recall having a case of Influenza in a pregnant patient while I was there. I am thrilled that hospitals and school systems are mandating it. But it is not in all states yet.
One year working as a medical director of a Nursing Home, we had a nation-wide vaccine shortage. The supply was late getting to our patients and we had an outbreak. I became aware of the risk of death that comes with contracting Influenza in a debilitated elderly population. The mortality rate is high. We lost a number of patients to pneumonia that year. We actually had a resident based in the facility to monitor the patients. The hospital was overwhelmed so we provided care in the facility. I think the outcome was better but we all felt the toll along with the families.
I now work with college students. We can’t make it mandatory but I can say that getting the vaccine prevents lost days from classes, missed examinations and can affect the final grade. The Flu can ruin a presentation or a project and without intervention can lead to a drop in a grade. Also, there is the risk of hospitalization for pneumonia and even death in this age group. For the first time gave out all of our vaccine and will reorder if the demand is there. It is my hope that parents encouraged their kids to get vaccinated during Winter Break.
My advice is get a Flu Shot if you haven’t gotten one already and insist that those in your extended circle get one.