It’s that time of year again. Children back at school. Football season is underway and baseball playoffs to start soon. The television networks are rolling out their new shows.
And it’s also time to think about getting flu shots. I just got mine today as I have done annually since going to medical school.
Compared to last year, there isn’t as much news about the flu or the flu vaccine. This year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives clear guidelines that everyone aged 6 months and older should get the influenza vaccine.
This month the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all healthcare providers should be required to get the influenza vaccine.
And one fact that hasn’t gotten much attention is whether the 2009 H1N1 virus is included in the 2010-2011 vaccine: Is it? Yes, it is. This year’s vaccine will be as safe as vaccines in past years as the production process is unchanged. Inclusion of the 2009 H1N1 virus will not be a problem.
These facts are far calmer than the news in the spring of 2009 when the appearance of a novel influenza virus had the world extremely anxious. Unlike other flu viruses, the swine flu or H1N1 virus was more easily contracted by young and healthy adults as well as infants, children, and pregnant women. Older adults seemed to be spared. A flu virus attacking young and healthy resulting in deaths raised concerns that perhaps this was the beginning of a pandemic much like the 1918 influenza pandemic which killed millions worldwide. Influenza or flu is not simply a bad cold. It’s a viral illness that nationally causes tens of thousands of deaths.
When first signs of this new virus appeared in April 2009, scientists worked feverishly not only to identify it but also figure out how to create a vaccine to protect the public. The potential for millions of deaths worldwide was a significant possibility. By the fall, a new vaccine was available. Because of the time it took to determine the viral DNA sequence, it was not included in the 2009-2010 flu vaccine combination batch. Patients would need to get a separate flu shot in addition to the traditional one.
That is when the firestorm of controversy occurred. Instead of being grateful that scientists that a new vaccine was produced in record time, concerns of about safety appeared. In addition on the initial rollout, there was inadequate or uneven supply of vaccine which resulted in lines of people waiting for a limited supply of vaccine. People were being turned away. To add to the uncertainty, the optimum dosage of vaccine to be given to children wasn’t initially clear. All of this didn’t help allay fears. “Deadly virus about to kill millions. Untested vaccine rushed to production.”
None of these stories panned out. Fortunately the H1N1 pandemic wasn’t as deadly as initially feared.
Nevertheless many of these unconfirmed concerns spread quickly and were repeated resulting in many unnecessarily scared patients. People are increasingly skeptical of large institutions and organizations, even if they are working in the public’s best interest. As people become more irrational about making important decisions of significant consequence, it is vital that people can trust a group of individuals who put the well-being of others first. It is vital that doctors step up and lead by example.
Doing the right thing means that if controversy appears, whether regarding vaccinations or healthcare reform and policy changes, doctors must step up and be heard. Too much misinformation exists. The public is increasingly confused. Speaking up means sometime you have to disagree with fellow doctors.
Doing the right thing sometimes is the hardest thing to do. Getting a flu vaccine certainly isn’t one of them. Do the right thing, roll up your sleeves, and get the flu vaccine. It’s what I’ll be doing for my family. Demonstrate to your staff and your patients it is the right thing to do.
Doctor, get vaccinated. Remind them to get the flu vaccine.
*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*