Last year flu came early and came hard, hospitalizing the most elderly patients on record and killing 161 children.
This year the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) is out ahead of the flu season. Yesterday’s conference in Washington D.C. was all about vaccination. There are now more options than ever before, with a vaccine that is four times more potent for the elderly, an additional flu strain covered in a quadrivalent vaccine, and even a cell-based vaccine for egg allergy sufferers. With 135 million doses already available, the key is compliance, according to NFID.
“The vaccine that works is the vaccine that’s delivered,” said Dr. William Schaffner, former President of NFID and the moderator of the conference. “I’d like to paraphrase Voltaire, that old French philosopher who said, ‘Waiting for perfection is the greatest enemy of the common good.’”
Contrary to many peoples’ fears, you cannot get the flu from a flu shot, which uses a dead virus or part of the flu virus. The shot also helps protect your neighbor, by decreasing the amount of circulating flu virus in your general vicinity. This important concept is known as herd immunity. You never know when flu will strike a child, a pregnant woman, or someone with diabetes or HIV.
“If you have certain medical conditions that put you at higher risk, like heart disease, asthma, or diabetes, or if you’re pregnant or a healthcare professional, vaccination is especially important,” Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at the conference.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compliance rates are up among these groups, with 57 percent of children, over half of pregnant women, and 72 percent of health care workers now getting flu shots. But the numbers need to be higher. We health care workers need to protect our patients by being vaccinated.
NFID emphasized that everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot.
“You need to be vaccinated before you’re exposed to the influenza for the vaccine to work,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. “So that first cough or fever is not the time to think about influenza vaccination.”
With fewer than half of adults getting flu shots in the United States every year, we still have a long way to go.
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.