MEDICAL: Chicago Tribune: “Healthcare providers should be required to get flu shot.”

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The Chicago Tribune (12/18) editorializes that, while “More than half the hospitals in one nationwide poll required their workers to get flu shots, Nurse Carrie Calhoun, a critical care nurse who works for the Elk Grove Village, Ill.,-based Alexian Brothers…has taken a stand that could cost her, her job: She refuses to get the shot.”

The Tribune argues that, because of her position as a nurse in a healthcare facility, she should either get the shot, or lose her job.

TROPICANA FORUM MEDICAL COMMENTARY : Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC

The reason why that nurse needs the influenza vaccine is not so much to prevent the disease for her own sake, but it will reduce her chances of getting the flu and then passing it on to patients who are weakened and might develop life-threatening complications from the flu. During the 1918 flu pandemic, it is estimated that 650,000 Americans died of the disease, so influenza is potentially very dangerous.

The vaccine is prepared each year with the three strains of inactive viruses that are considered to be the riskiest for the year in question. This season, 2012-2013, the traditional flu vaccine injection is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. It is especially important, not only for healthcare workers, but also for those who live in homes where the most vulnerable people live: pregnant women, children, seniors, disabled and those with chronic illnesses. These groups are at higher risk for serious flu complications.

It is not too late to get the vaccine. The disease tends to peak in January and February, but benefits can be found even with late injections out to May. Because the injectable form of the vaccine is made with “dead” viruses, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. Side effects of the injection are usually mild, but may be severe in some cases. Since 2009 there has been a high potency vaccine (“Fluzone”) available for those over age 65. This vaccine induces a more powerful antibody response, but there is no evidence yet that it is better in preventing the flu or its complications.

The Chicago Tribune article is linked above, and there is a link to a good summary below. Other more detailed discussions from the CDC can also be found online. Many doctors offer the vaccine in their offices, but you also can easily obtain it at most drug stores. You can’t get the intranasal vaccine in a drug store. That convenient method is often chosen by pediatricians. You must ask your doctor about that version if you are interested. You don’t need a doctor’s permission to get the shot at the pharmacy.

Flu.gov link

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