After all of my years in medicine, there is still one story that never ceases to amaze me, and that is the sheer number of Americans willing to sacrifice their health over false suspicions and fears about vaccines. So many adults and worrisome parents are confused and misled by the falsehoods and lies spread by fear-mongering reports and non-science-based physicians, that I have to wonder which side of the argument is being heard more clearly.
There is a real danger in spreading non-science-based beliefs about medicine and a perfect example of that are the clusters of measles outbreaks that we see popping up more and more frequently. We have a perfectly safe and effective vaccine to protect our children and ourselves from the measles, but the statistics show individuals would rather risk possible death than be protected. The story of the influenza vaccine is rather similar.
Not only are these vaccines important for an individual, but they are also imperative for the health of thousands of others. We no longer live in an isolated society—more and more people use mass transportation for school, work and socializing each day, and there is far more interpersonal communication happening between strangers than we realize. Whether it’s shaking hands with someone, sharing a train seat, or waiting next to them at a check-out counter, you’re at risk of exposure to whatever it is they are carrying.
With the influx of tourists and immigrants that we have in this country, it seems to me that it should be a no-brainer to seek protection from unknown diseases or illnesses, but the data suggests a wildly different reality. Why you would seek to play Russian roulette with your health instead of spending 20 minutes of your day getting a harmless flu shot is beyond me, but maybe the dire risks of the influenza virus are not being communicated clearly enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there have been 15 flu-related pediatric deaths this season, with the virus already spreading to 40 states across the country.
Yes, it’s true that you can still get the flu even if you’ve had the shot—especially if the strain you’re infected with is not targeted by the vaccine—but likelihood is slim, and you’re more likely to get a weakened strain of the virus if you’re vaccinated. We keep repeating that at least one-third of Americans are suffering from some type of chronic medical problem, whether it’s diabetes, cardiac pulmonary disease or others, which leaves them at-risk for suffering severe complications from a flu infection. And while it seems like common sense to consider the dangers that a contagious virus could pose to patients who are already immunosuppressed because of cancer treatments or organ transplants, the data on vaccine rates suggest we should be yelling about it more loudly.
It is incomprehensible to me, that after considering the health of ourselves and others, Americans would still choose to opt-out of getting these vaccines. If you fall into this category, or simply forgot to get the flu vaccine this season, it’s not too late for you to get one. I urge you to contact your physician on behalf of all of us out here who are trying to stay healthy.