Originally posted on NFID News:
At the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) 2015 Annual Influenza/Pneumococcal News Conference held in Washington, DC last week, expert panelists spoke about the burden of influenza (flu) in the US and the importance of annual flu vaccination as the best way to protect yourself and your family.
Special thanks to Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH, Director of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for sharing his perspective on the importance of annual flu vaccination for all people 6 months of age and older.
How serious is the flu?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe illness. Flu seasons can vary in severity depending on what viruses are circulating, but the flu is much more than a nuisance or common cold. Every flu season, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized…
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Each year statistics remind us that anyone can suffer, die or be hospitalized as a result of the flu. That is why influenza vaccine is recommended each and every year for everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions.
Sure, some people will think this recommendation doesn’t apply to them. Maybe they consider themselves healthy and not at risk for flu. Maybe they’ve been lucky enough never to have suffered with the flu, and just don’t realize how bad it can be.
But our luck can change at any moment.
We can’t predict if, or when, we may be exposed to flu. We can’t predetermine how long it may be before we recover, or if we will suffer complications. And we certainly can’t explain why an otherwise healthy individual could end up hospitalized or dead from flu. But we can share stories of those who’ve been afflicted by flu, and reinforce the messages delivered by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) at a special press conference last week:
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu.
By getting your flu shot you can protect yourself, while also helping prevent influenza from spreading in your community. Such a simple gesture can actually save the lives of infants who are too young to be vaccinated, cancer patients who have a compromised immune system, or those who struggle with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. A recent study even provided evidence that adult flu vaccination helped reduce the amount of flu among the elderly.
So this flu season, consider how dangerous influenza can be for people of all ages, and get vaccinated to protect yourself, as well as your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.
What last year’s statistics tell us.
Not only is the flu very unpredictable, but the circulating strains can vary, and the populations that seem to suffer the most can also fluctuate from year to year.
Last year’s statistics tell us that the 2014–15 influenza season was moderately severe, but it was especially severe in adults over the age of 65. We’ve also learned that the majority of influenza A (H3N2) viruses that were circulating last season had drifted from the virus component contained in the vaccine. This impaired the efficacy of the vaccine, and may have resulted in the public questioning the value of the vaccine. However, as Dr. Frieden explained at last week’ press event,
“Overall, the flu vaccine is usually 50-60% effective.” He went on to say that, “It doesn’t matter which flu vaccine you get, just get one.”
Flu is a threat to everyone, regardless of age.
Flu in Infants:
Severe complications from flu are most common in children under the age of two.
Unfortunately, infants who are under six months of age are not able to be vaccinated for flu. That is why the best way to protect babies of this age is to ensure that everyone around them stays healthy and flu-free! That includes mom and dad, brothers and sisters, grandparents, caregivers and even daycare and healthcare providers.
Flu in Pregnant Women:
The best way a mother can protect her infant child is to get vaccinated herself during her pregnancy. Infants born to mothers who received the influenza vaccine during pregnancy have a lower risk of contracting flu or being hospitalized due to flu. That’s because the mother’s immunity transfers to the baby through the placenta to help protect her baby before the baby is old enough to be vaccinated.
Pregnant women also experience changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy that make them more prone to severe illness from flu. By getting vaccinated, an expectant woman can reduce her risk of hospitalization as well as premature labor and delivery. [Read the story of Leslie Creekmore to understand the risk of flu in pregnancy.]
Last flu season, 32% of women who were hospitalized with flu between the ages of 15-44 years of age were pregnant. You can help reduce this statistic by encouraging flu vaccination among the pregnant women you know. Read more…
There has been a lot of social media attention given to a monologue that was delivered by a nurse in the Miss American pageant earlier this week. Nurse Kelley Johnson, who also happened to be a contestant in the pageant representing the state of Colorado, took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to highlight the importance of nurses in our society during the talent portion of the program.
While there have been plenty of critiques of her monologue, what I found most compelling about the monologue was what she said, not how she said it or what she was wearing when she said it.
Yes, her story was simple, but it was also very powerful and emotional.
Miss Colorado began the monologue by recounting her conversations with one particular Alzheimer’s patient. She explained the apologies she would make to him for being “just a nurse,” and not being authorized to accommodate certain requests, such as a change in medications. As the story unfolds, we discover that this particular patient, Joe, helped Kelley to realize that she was so much more than “just a nurse”. Joe may have had Alzheimer’s but he appreciated the fact that Kelley not only cared for his physical needs as a patient, but that she also respected him as a person who deserved to be treated with respect and dignity, even if he happened to be dealing with “just a disease” known as Alzheimer’s.
As I’ve been witnessing the outpouring of support and acknowledgement for nurses all over social media the past two days, I want to add my applause for nurses everywhere. I also want to bring attention to the extremely difficult and diverse work that nurses do in support of immunization and public health.
In the immunization world, nurses are the critical link to disease prevention. Not only are they the most common administrators of vaccines, but some studies indicate that they’re also the most effective at administering vaccinations when compared to physicians or other non-physician personnel like pharmacists. This puts them in the perfect position to also be critical in delivering important immunization messages.
“Because nurses are often the ones administering vaccines, it makes their expertise, knowledge, and advice vital in creating a safe and trusted environment for discussing childhood immunizations,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC’s Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “How you communicate with parents during routine pediatric visits is critical for fostering parental confidence in the decision to vaccinate their children.”
There’s a part of me that understands why some people are hesitant to get newly approved and recommended vaccines.
“I don’t want my child to be a pharmaceutical guinea pig.”
“The vaccine hasn’t been around long enough. How can we really know the long-term side effects?”
“I didn’t have half the vaccines that kids today get and I survived. Why do we bother to give so many vaccines for diseases that aren’t even all that serious?”
These are the kind of comments I’ve heard in school, at the doctor’s office, on the playground with other parents, or posted as comments on social media. While I understand that people may be hesitant, and sometimes even fearful, of something new, I tend to address my concerns by learning more about whatever it is I’m afraid of.
Since I began contributing to this blog six years ago, I’ve tried to address some of the most popular immunization concerns I’ve heard from other parents. In sharing what I’ve learned, It is my sincere hope that others will be better able to make informed immunization decisions based on the sound scientific evidence that I include in my posts.
However, the approval of two new vaccines (HPV9 and MenB) have actually caused me much concern and distress lately.
It’s not that I’m worried about the dangers of these new vaccines. Quite the contrary.
I’ve sat through enough presentations at immunization conferences and committee meetings to appreciate the extensive amount of data that is collected and analyzed by hundreds of scientists and doctors as a vaccine makes it’s way through the various phases of clinical trials.
I’ve become familiar with the elaborate process that leads to FDA approval, and I’ve witnessed discussions by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) when they’ve considered modifications or additions to the recommended vaccine schedule. By the time a new vaccine is ever recommended for my child, the vaccine has already been administered to thousands of people in clinical trials and the vaccine’s efficacy and potential adverse effects have already been well documented. In fact, many vaccines, are already being used in foreign countries for years prior to being approved here in the U.S. This provides a considerable amount of safety and efficacy data for us to analyze prior to U.S. licensure and recommendations.
With all the available data that is scrutinized by so many experts, I’m not concerned at all about the vaccine’s safety. What I am concerned about is how long it takes for the public to finally have access to these new vaccines after FDA approval and ACIP recommendation.
In the case of these two new vaccines (HPV9 and MenB) my personal experience has been far from ideal. It’s been at least three months since the new ACIP recommendations and yet I’m still unable to locate a single dose of either vaccine within a 50 mile radius of my home. To make matters worse, I’m hearing reports from parents who are getting inaccurate information about the availability of these vaccines. Read more…