Get your flu vaccine this year. Please.
As a nurse practitioner, mom, amateur blogger, and human, I've labored over my MacBook, trying to think of the best way to grab your attention about the flu vaccine. Everything seemed contrived and artificial. And honestly, there is no need for flowery language, clickbait, or gimmicky banter.
The world is in the middle of a pandemic, and the last thing we need is people getting sick with a preventable virus, and influenza is preventable. Nurses and other healthcare professionals, please receive your flu vaccine this year and ensure you know how to provide your patients with evidence-based information regarding its importance.
As the race for a COVID-19 vaccine continues, much of the world is looking toward the finish line, waiting to see which vaccine manufacturer will cross it first. Don't get me wrong: a COVID-19 vaccine is essential and deserves funding and attention. But flu season is upon us, and healthcare providers need to shift their gaze towards a new race.
The CDC recently released a statement that the flu vaccine is vital this year during the current pandemic. Here are the top three reasons you, your patients, and the broader community should get protected against the flu.
The Flu Vaccine Protects
Each year, the CDC tracks data to examine the flu's burden on the US healthcare system as a whole. They look at the overall number of illnesses, outpatient visits, hospitalizations, and flu-associated deaths. While we are approaching flu season 20-21, the CDC is still gathering data from the flu season 2019-2020. However, preliminary data estimates there were 35 million flu cases, 16 million doctors visits, 490K hospitalizations, and 34K deaths from the flu during the 2019/2020 season. What does all this mean? The flu costs lives and money.
Maybe you aren't in the healthcare community, so this data doesn't seem important to you. Perhaps you run a small business, or you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The CDC also estimates that the flu costs a total economic burden of $87.1 billion. Additional money is lost from sick days and decreased productivity. Whatever your profession, the flu season is expensive. Imagine these costs compounded by another flu-like illness such as COVID: it's not pretty. Flu vaccinations will reduce personal sick days and personal time off to care for a sick family member. Our economy is just as unstable as our healthcare system. And many things are out of our control right now. Getting your flu vaccine is one thing you can do to protect yourself and the economy.
The Flu Vaccine Defends
The yearly flu burden depends on the number of citizens vaccinated, the vaccine's effectiveness, and other circulating viruses during flu season. All frontline healthcare workers are waiting with bated breath for the start of the flu season because there is another circulating virus competing with the flu: COVID-19. Healthcare officials and experts anticipate influenza and COVID-19 to spread simultaneously this season. And while the healthcare community is still learning to battle and mitigate COVID- 19, they are also preparing for another war. I like analogies, so imagine being a firefighter, exhausted from months of attempting to put out a fire. Maybe you ran out of water at times or had to settle for a garden hose, and now at your most exhausted, you know fighter jets are on the way to pour gasoline on this fire. That sums up how healthcare workers are feeling today.
Getting your flu vaccine this year mitigates the fire healthcare workers are fighting. It will ensure fewer hospitalizations and inpatient visits and overall strain on our delicate healthcare system. When a community commits to getting a flu vaccine, they provide healthcare workers with the ability to utilize resources to focus on caring for non-preventable illnesses or injuries. There will be more hospital beds available, healthcare offices will be less overwhelmed, and frontline workers will have a less physical and mental strain, which is what our healthcare system needs.
It's also important to consider the overlap of symptoms between influenza and COVID. Differential diagnoses will be difficult, and getting your flu vaccine can help prevent a delay in diagnosis. Increased testing for flu can potentially delay testing for COVID. Don't propel the fire already raging. Get your flu vaccine and help ease the burden for frontline workers.
The Flu Vaccine Saves Lives
If you're still not convinced of why the flu vaccine is essential, here is the most straightforward reason I can give: It saves lives. If I had a dollar for every time a patient, friend or acquaintance claimed they didn't need to get the flu vaccine because they never get sick or that the flu vaccine gives them the flu, I would have many hypothetical dollars. None of these falsities are supported by science. Another misconception is that the flu vaccine doesn't work. "I got the vaccine, and I still got sick." Remember, the flu vaccine cocktail each season is based on projections. Epidemiologists track what flu strains are circulating and then predict what viral strains will be most active during the season, and like weather forecasts, sometimes they get it wrong. But that doesn't mean the flu vaccine is pointless. The purpose of the vaccine is not to prevent the flu but to decrease illness severity, decrease hospitalization, and death. So even if the vaccine is not perfect, it prepares your body to fight the flu strains you are exposed to.
Last and most importantly, the flu vaccine is not about you. It's about protecting your community. There are frontline workers and essential workers that do not have the luxury of working from home or isolating themselves. They work so the rest of us can continue receiving healthcare, buy groceries, and get an education. Some populations can't get the flu vaccine because they are immunosuppressed or too young. Protect yourself but also consider that you are protecting the vulnerable. Many think vaccines are about the individual. I argue they are about the community and a selfless way to show others you care about their well-being above your own.
I took my 6-year-old son to get his flu vaccine this weekend. While he was nervous and even shed a small tear, he was so brave. As we walked back to the car, he said, "now I have helped everyone in my family." I love his simplistic understanding of the importance of his sacrifice made, and I hope it's a lesson to the rest of us that this doesn't have to be complicated. Get your flu vaccine this year. It may save your life or someone else's.
To learn more about this year's flu season and the effects of COVID, click here.
Also, if vaccines are your passion, check out our partner Vaccine Ambassadors to learn more about how you can help the rest of the world access vaccines.