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It’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, and if you haven’t yet gotten a flu shot, you still have time. But why is it important to get the shot, especially if you’re not in any risk groups? And how can you encourage your patients and their family and friends to get it without being a nag? Jennifer Femino, FNP-BC, Family Nurse Practitioner/Director of Quality Improvement at North Shore Community Health and member of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), explains why and how you can help your community prepare for flu season.
Why is it important for people to get vaccinated against the flu? Who is at the highest risk for having complications from it?
It is important for everyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated against the flu because it is a contagious respiratory illness, which can cause severe illness and even death in some people. Not only will receiving the flu vaccine help protect the individual, but it will also help prevent those they come in contact with from getting the flu, by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine.
Those at highest risk for having complications from the flu include children under 5 years old, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.
How can nurses encourage their patients to get vaccinated? What should they say to those who have fears that the shot will give them the flu? What about those who believe that the vaccination will hurt them?
Nurse practitioners can encourage their patients to get vaccinated by addressing any specific concerns the patient has. They can also remind patients the flu can cause severe illness and death in some people, and the flu vaccine is a simple way to prevent this. Nurses can also get vaccinated themselves, and wear a badge advertising this; patients may feel reassured their trusted health care professional also gets vaccinated against the flu.
NPs also educate patients that the flu vaccine does not cause the flu. Flu vaccines are made with either inactivated flu or a weakened flu virus, neither of which can cause the flu. Some people may feel mild symptoms after receiving the flu vaccine, but nurses should emphasize that the symptoms are mild and brief, and are very different from the severity of symptoms of the flu.
Serious reactions to the flu vaccine are rare. People who have a severe allergy to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients should not get the flu vaccine. Most people with egg allergies are able to get the flu vaccine. However, any patients with a history of an egg allergy or a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, should speak with their health care provider about options for flu vaccination.
What about families/friends of patients? How can nurses encourage them to get vaccinated? Suppose the patient has a compromised immune system? What can they say to get visitors to get vaccinated?
Nurses can talk with families and friends of patients about the importance of them getting the flu vaccine in order to help prevent the flu in their loved ones. NPs can also remind family members and friends it is not enough to simply avoid the patient if they are sick because they would likely be contagious with the flu even before they knew they were sick.
This is even more important for family members and friends of patients with a compromised immune system. It is imperative that they get the flu vaccine so that they do not spread the flu to the patient, who will likely not be able to fight it and is at serious risk for complications, including death.
Nurses can talk with patients and families about ways in which they can talk to their visitors about the importance of receiving the flu vaccine and can work with them to perhaps set limits or discourage visitors who have not been vaccinated.
Some people think that it’s fine to get the flu—it’s like getting a cold. It will go away. Explain why the flu is more serious and why vaccinations are crucial.
The flu is much more serious than a cold. The symptoms are much more severe and intense. The most important difference is that the flu can result in serious complications, including death. The flu vaccine is crucial, not only to prevent flu in an individual, but also to prevent the spread of flu to those who may be at higher risk of complications.
Are all health care providers required to get vaccinated?
Health care providers are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine. Policies regarding the flu vaccine vary from organization to organization. Many institutions have policies mandating the flu vaccine, and those who choose not to get the flu vaccine must wear a mask throughout the flu season.
What about those who say that they’ve gotten the flu shot in the past and still gotten the flu? How can vaccinations benefit them? How can you encourage them to get vaccinated?
Flu vaccines are not 100% effective, and sometimes the strain of flu circulating is not a perfect match for the flu strains in the flu vaccine. In some cases, people were exposed to the flu before their immune system had time to build a response to the flu vaccine.
There is evidence the flu can be milder and briefer in those who have been vaccinated against the flu. Although flu vaccines are not perfect, they are the best way to prevent getting the flu.
Anything else regarding the importance of vaccinations for influenza that you think is important for our readers to know?
The CDC is an excellent resource for information regarding the flu. They have a wealth of resources for nurses and patients on their website. They also are on Twitter (@CDCFlu).
Flu activity is starting to increase across the United States, so if you have not yet had your flu vaccine, now is the time!