Thursday, November 8, 2018

It’s NOT “Just the Flu” — Protect Your Community by Getting a Flu Shot

By C. Leilani Valdes, MD, Victoria
Member, the Texas Medical Association Council on Health Promotion and Be Wise — Immunize Physician Advisory Panel

Several years ago, a previously healthy person with no pre-existing illnesses or conditions died from complications of the flu in my hospital. As a member of the hospital’s infection control committee and chair of pathology, I learned the patient did not get a flu shot.

I’d read studies indicating that regardless of the flu vaccination’s effectiveness in any given year, getting vaccinated is helpful, because the shot either prevents the flu or lessens its severity. I wanted to know if my community’s experience supported this data. I asked infection control staff at our hospital to track patients diagnosed with flu to see if they had been vaccinated. Sure enough, even though we saw a record number of patients in the emergency department that year with the flu, only patients who were NOT vaccinated for flu were admitted to the hospital for more treatment than could be provided in the ER. Bottom line: People who skipped the flu shot were sicker.

I have always been a staunch advocate for vaccinations, but prior to this small study in my facility, I didn’t really focus on the flu shot. After all, I read the reports saying the flu vaccine only matched the prevalent flu strains between 40 percent and 60 percent of the time. However, data gathered in my own community proves vaccination can save people from hospitalization and death. Be healthy: Get a flu shot.

Last flu season was the worst in thirty years by number of flu-related deaths and hospitalizations. A lower-than-normal flu vaccination rate is partly to blame. This conclusion is according to new information released on Oct. 25 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My worry as a physician is that our community members do not realize they are contributing to the increased severity by choosing not to vaccinate themselves or their families.

  Dr. Valdes gets her flu shot. Courtesy of C. Leilani Valdes.
I hear frequently from people in the community — and, surprisingly, even from health care workers — that they choose not to get vaccinated. “I get the flu anyway,” they say, or “It’s not really that effective,” or “I’m healthy so I don’t need it.”  Whatever the reason, my response is always the same: “You might still get the flu, but if you have been vaccinated, you probably won’t have to go to the hospital or die from it. And by getting vaccinated, you help protect people in our community who are too weak to respond to the vaccine.”

I hope the more people I can convince to do their part and get the shot, the healthier our community will be. Our vaccine choices today will influence the severity of this flu season.

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