I’ve not had influenza for many years and I’ve put that down to the fact that I’ve been well protected by the influenza vaccine.
I got my first flu shot in the early ‘90s and I have had it every year since. At that time the flu vaccine wasn’t that widely available. And we were looking at the information and data about flu vaccines, as part of the Influenza Specialist Group in the Australian Medical Association. It was very clear that the more vaccines you have, the more useful it becomes longer term because you build up immunity against many different strains.
In general practice, the exposure I have to people with flu is very significant. But by being immunized, I am giving myself the best protection against contracting it from people who come into my room. It means that I don’t get this virus incubating in me and I can’t pass it on to my family at home or the patients that I see.
Not a day goes by during the influenza immunization season when people say: “I got sick the last time I had the flu vaccine, so I haven’t had one for years.” I believe it’s our duty as healthcare professionals to dispel this myth. So I say: “You can’t possibly get flu from the vaccine because it’s only part of the fraction of the flu virus and it’s a dead particle anyway. You might have a runny nose because of the immune reaction you get any time you get any injection or you might have had some other kind of virus. It was not the influenza because you weren’t bad enough for that to be the case.”
As trusted healthcare professionals providing the best advice based on science, we are the most effective vehicles for promoting that individuals should get immunized against influenza.
So, in the community where we work, we actively advocate for the uptake of the flu vaccine: in the practice or nursing homes that we visit or pharmacies that we frequent. We explain that influenza is a major illness and if we get it in large volumes, it can be devastating. We talk about how elderly people have a reduced immunity and are more susceptible to its severe consequences. We also share why those with chronic diseases and those who are pregnant would benefit from the flu shot.
In my practice, everybody is immunized against influenza. It’s something we promote and provide free to our staff. Everyone takes it up, and by and large they all do extraordinarily well. We even provide a special clinic so that people from the community can come through and get immunized in a timely manner.
For me, the message about influenza is quite clear. The only reason we haven’t suffered catastrophic flu like the Spanish flu of 1917, which caused devastation in fit young people, and the only reason we didn’t suffer particularly badly with the pandemic flu in 2010, is because we have effective influenza immunization.