We have a saying about flu (well, actually, several):
• How do you tell the difference between flu and a cold? Tape a $100 bill to the front door, and if you don't feel up to getting out of bed for the money, you have the flu.
• Q: What makes it a bad flu season? A: If you get it.
And to get the basics covered, who should get a vaccine? Pretty much everyone, and that means you:
All persons aged 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually.By the way, people in the high risk category especially include pregnant women and newborns.
Protection of persons at higher risk for influenza-related complications should continue to be a focus of vaccination efforts as providers and programs transition to routine vaccination of all persons aged 6 months and older.
The Flu Shot is Safe for Pregnant WomenMoms-to-be can get the shot, but babies under six months can't. So, to protect them, everyone around them should be vaccinated.
Flu shots are a safe way to protect the mother and her unborn child from serious illness and complications of flu. The flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years. Flu shots have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies. It is very important for pregnant women to get the flu shot.
Finding a flu shot is easy, too, even if you don't have a regular doctor. Not only are many pharmacies and stores offering them, you can call your local Visiting Nurses Association (or go here) or public health department for local info.
So what's different about this season? Well, we have some good news for those who don't care for needles: if you're otherwise healthy, and you are under 50, you can have a nasal flu vaccine that doesn't use needles, and starting this year, if you are 18-64, you can have an intradermal vaccine that uses fine point lancets that you will barely feel.
The intradermal flu vaccine is a shot that is injected into the skin instead of the muscle. The intradermal shot uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot, and it requires less antigen to be as effective as the regular flu shot. Antigen is the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses.Now here's where the politics come in. The bad news is that we have a politically charged pseudo-debate about HPV vaccine clouding people's judgment. And while the "mandatory" part of Rick Perry's HPV stumble has many people unhappy, mandatory vaccination for other illnesses is pretty common. In this setting, for children the penalty is refused admission to school, but for adults, mandates come in many different flavors.
For an example that only affects some of us, flu vaccine for health care workers would seem to be no-brainer. Protect yourself, protect your patients, right? Not so fast. Here's a chart looking at seasonal and H1N1 pandemic vaccine in health care personnel for the 2009 season. It was a pandemic year, you may recall, and that year there were two vaccines offered: the traditional seasonal flu vax for a virus that was no longer circulating, and the pandemic H1N1 vaccine for the virus that was.
So, guess which vaccine got accepted? Why, the wrong one, of course! And why was that? Anecdotal information suggests that it's the same reasons that everyone else cites:
Fear of adverse reactions, avoidance of medications, and the inconvenience of vaccine administration were frequently cited reasons for declining immunization. Hospital employees would be more inclined to receive future influenza immunization if vaccine administration were more accessible and if they were informed that immunization were a national health care policy.Well, you know what? They'd be even more inclined to do it if the vax was mandatory:
That's a powerful argument for mandates, right there. They work.
So, not everyone is a health care worker. On the other hand, public health is best served by open and frank policy discussion with consensus rather than passing things by executive order with the appearance of being at the behest of the vaccine manufacturers. That may include, for example, involving bargaining units at hospitals in the discussion about mandated vaccines, and it may involve the legislature (the people's representatives) when it comes to school mandates.
The bottom line is that not all mandates are created equal, any more than all diseases and all vaccines are. And in the context of doing the right thing, don't let Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry dictate the terms of vaccine policy. It's bad enough they try to do so on climate and jobs.