As a health-care worker, I can think of many important reasons why I will get the influenza vaccine, but I cannot think of a single reason why I shouldn’t.
- Anyone can get seriously ill from influenza (the flu).
- The flu can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.
- Even people with strong immune systems can have severe outcomes from the flu.
- You can get the flu from anyone, including patients and co-workers.
- If you get the flu, you can spread it to others even if you don’t feel sick.
- By getting vaccinated, you are helping to protect yourself, your family, and your patients from the flu.
- If you transmit the flu to patients, some of them will have severe outcomes because of underlying medical conditions.
- Some vulnerable patients and young infants cannot mount an adequate immune response to the flu vaccine. In order to protect them, we have to vaccinate those around them – the so called “cocoon strategy.”
- The most common side-effects from the vaccine are usually mild and transient.
- Preventing severe influenza is always much better than trying to cure influenza illness.
Considering these reasons, getting the flu vaccine is simply the right thing for health-care workers to do.
Each year across North America, several healthy individuals become seriously ill from the flu, sometimes with devastating outcomes. It is well recognized that the flu can be a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death among people with normal immune systems. Each year the virus changes and one cannot predict how the immune system will react to the circulating strain of the virus. The annual influenza vaccine is the best way to ensure that our immune systems are best prepared to fight the flu. Vaccination also lessens the chances that health-care workers will spread the influenza virus to others, including patients, family members and friends. Health-care workers can get the flu from anyone, including patients and co-workers who are sick with the flu. Indeed, some people can spread the flu even if they do not feel sick.
Patients in children’s hospitals are particularly vulnerable due to their age and underlying health. Some of these patients cannot be vaccinated because they are too young to get the vaccine. Others are not able to benefit from the vaccine due to weakened immune systems. Unvaccinated health-care workers who work in these hospitals are more likely to transmit infection to these vulnerable infants and children than their vaccinated colleagues.
There are two types of flu vaccines. One is given as a nasal spray and contains live attenuated (weakened) strains of influenza viruses. The other, which is being used at SickKids, is an inactivated vaccine. It is given as an injection and only contains killed, non-infectious viruses, and therefore one cannot get the flu from this vaccine. The most common symptoms associated with the vaccine are transient soreness at the injection site and a mild fever. The complications that could result from influenza illness are of much greater concern.
While the flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu, protection is not 100 per cent and some people can still get the flu after being vaccinated. In these situations, illness is often mild because of some protection provided by the vaccine. How well the flu vaccine prevents influenza illness depends on who is being vaccinated. In general, young healthy adults and older children have the best response to the flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. This means that it’s better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season gets under way.
I strongly recommend the flu vaccine for my fellow health-care workers. I sincerely believe that it is by far the best way for us to protect ourselves, our patients and our family from the flu.