It’s flu season again, which means it’s flu shot season again. As it has last year, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital mandated that all employees get vaccinated, and while most people are compliant, the policy generates a lot of talk. The usual stuff: “I don’t think it really works,” and “I always get sicker from the shot,” and “They don’t have the right to force me to do this.”
I happily take up the role of stanch defender. My faith and belief in the flu vaccine is whole-hearted, and the arguments I make on behalf of flu-protection are sincere.
Reporting on a European Scientific Influenza conference that met this month in Malta, they noted that health care workers are uniquely positioned both to get the flu and spread it. The average un-vaccinated working adult, with no children living in their home, has a 5.4% risk of contracting flu in-season. Un-vaccinated hospital staff? 18.7% The highest risk group, at 24% are un-vaccinated adults with children living in the home.
So if you’re an ER doc or nurse and you don’t get vaccinated, you have a 1-in-6 chance of coming down with an illness that makes you feel like you’ve been fed into a tree chipper for about 7-10 days. That’s a best case scenario. You could end up hospitalized with pneumonia.
The article suggests hospital staff are key actors in their ability to spread the flu as well. When H1N1 flu came on the scene, it became common understanding that schools were the main source of the virus’ spread, since susceptible children congregated and dispersed there. The same is true of hospitals, where implementing rules for hand washing and wearing masks go a long way in limiting the spread. There’s generally little grumbling about that, and it’s a good visual message to send to patients.
As for hospital staff:I always tell someone who’s iffy about getting the flu shot that not getting the shot can be fatal: “If you call in sick with the flu and someone has to cover for you.”