What Nurses Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine

What Nurses Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine

It’s that time of year, and the flu is hitting hard. While nurses learn all about the flu vaccine and treatment in nursing school and life, it’s good to revisit some basics—especially when healthcare experts strongly urge people to get the vaccination.

Ernest J. Grant, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, President of the American Nurses Association , talked with Daily Nurse about what nurses need to know for this year’s flu season.

How can nurses initiate conversations with patients about the importance of getting the flu shot? What should they say to them? What should they *not say to them?

When discussing flu vaccines with patients, nurses should emphasize that annual vaccination is important as the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time and as the circulating flu viruses–and flu shot formulation–vary from year to year. It’s also important to emphasize that although anyone can get the flu, individuals with chronic health conditions, young children, pregnant women, older adults, and some racial and ethnic minority groups are at a higher risk.

Nurses should avoid telling patients that they have waited too long to get a flu vaccine or that it’s too late to get one, especially for those at increased risk. While the fall is the best time to get a flu vaccination, each community may experience flu activity and spikes at different times, so it’s never too late to get a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines remain the best way for patients to protect themselves and their loved ones.

So many people are tired of getting vaccines—because of COVID and all the subsequent boosters that folks may have gotten. How can nurses encourage patients to still get the flu shot—and the COVID booster? What should they say/not say to patients? What if patients argue about not getting the vaccines for themselves or their children? What kinds of information should nurses be sharing with them?

Despite the past two years of lower flu incidence due to social distancing and mask mandates, the flu remains a threat that should not be deprioritized. I encourage nurses to empower and educate people about the importance of flu shots this season. This includes teaching patients about the safety of the flu vaccine and how it helps to mitigate serious flu-related complications.

With some patients who may be more hesitant about receiving a flu vaccination, it will be important to help dispel some of the myths that are circulating about the flu vaccine. For example, some patients may think the flu vaccine gives them the flu. We know this is not the case and that side effects are usually the result of the body building an immunity to the flu virus, which is a good sign. If patients experience any symptoms or are worried about potential side effects of flu vaccines, it’s important to encourage them to discuss these concerns openly.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, flu vaccination can also help protect patients as we face the possibility of a “tripledemic,” with flu, COVID-19, and RSV this winter. Staying up-to-date on all CDC-recommended vaccinations is critical to help fight these and other viruses. The CDC has also advised that it is safe for patients to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccine or booster simultaneously. As trusted healthcare providers, nurses play a critical and influential role in encouraging Americans to vaccinate against COVID-19 and the flu to help protect themselves and individuals in their communities who are at increased risk of severe flu-related complications.

When can nurses push too hard? What do they need to be careful about encouraging people to get the flu vaccine and COVID boosters?

As nurses, our role is to educate and inform patients so they can make the best decisions possible for their health. It’s important that we aren’t pushing patients but rather giving them the best advice we can, based on science. For example, we know flu and COVID-19 vaccines can help protect people from serious complications, severe illness, and hospitalization, and we need to ensure our patients know that too. We also need to ensure we’re respecting our patients and their personal views when we’re having these conversations.

When should nurses discuss the differences between high-dose flu vaccines vs. the standard dose? What kind of information should they give patients regarding why they do or don’t need a particular type of flu vaccine? For example, a healthy person with no comorbidities wouldn’t need the higher dose—but suppose they insist?

Flu vaccine recommendations have only changed for those 65 years and older. Right now, there are three vaccines favored for more senior adults. Two of them are high-dose vaccines which vary in strength, and the other is the same strength as the standard dose flu vaccine, but it adds an adjuvant called MF59 to boost its immune response. These high-dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines are usually restricted to those adults 65 years and older. Which flu vaccine the patient may receive should be based upon consultation with their health care provider or nurse.

Particularly, nurses must educate those patients in the 65+ demographic to ensure they’re aware of the vaccine doses available to them, and which options are best for their health concerns. It’s important to remember that if one can’t access a higher dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine, a regular flu shot will suffice because getting a flu vaccine is better than not getting vaccinated against influenza.

How can they broach the subject of the CDC guidelines regarding why adults 65+ should get the higher dose? What information should they share?

Scientific evidence has shown that adults 65 years and older are at high risk for flu-related complications, hospitalization, and death. Studies have also shown that higher-dose flu vaccines are more effective in these more senior adults and individuals with comorbidities. When vaccines are well-matched against circulating flu viruses, they can reduce the risk of illness by 40-60%.

As the nation’s most trusted health professionals, nurses are ethically obligated to share this and other relevant health information and recommendations with their patients.

Can everyone simultaneously get the flu shot (either type) along with the COVID booster? Should nurses encourage this? Why or why not?

According to the CDC, you can get a COVID-19 and a flu vaccine simultaneously if you are eligible and the timing coincides. Nurses should emphasize the importance of flu vaccines and COVID-19 boosters in protecting patients and their loved ones and encourage their patients to time their vaccines however, works best for them.

Everyone must continue to do their part to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like influenza and COVID-19. While COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms, they require different vaccines. Getting an annual flu vaccine continues to be more critical than ever to help prevent the spread of influenza in your community.

It’s important to remember and to reiterate to patients that getting the flu vaccine doesn’t just mean being protected from flu infection. It can help prevent the flu and its potentially serious complications, such as cardiovascular events, pneumonia, and hospitalizations. Nurses are uniquely positioned as clinicians and educators to help encourage patients to take ownership of their health and get their annual flu vaccine

Are You Taking Care of Your Own Health?

Are You Taking Care of Your Own Health?

As a nurse, you know that preventative medical tests and other measures can help fight disease and possibly even save lives. Your professional life is focused on taking care of the health and well-being of patients. Even in your personal life, you may be the family member who keeps track of routine medical appointments and schedules tests, vaccines, and checkups for everyone.

Question is, do you take the same care to maintain your own health?

For example, the CDC advises health care personnel to get one dose of influenza vaccine each year. Now is the time to get that flu vaccination but so many nurses, and other medical employees, don’t get around to it.

Some have objections to vaccination and want to exercise their civil rights by abstaining. Their concerns are usually related to religion, health, or safety, but that’s not true for the majority of nurses.

Most nurses who don’t intend to get vaccinated this flu season either aren’t convinced this vaccine works, or don’t believe that they personally require vaccination. (Superhero complex, perhaps?)

Infectious diseases professor experts insist that though the flu vaccine missed the mark last year against those influenza strains, it’s been up to 60% effective in recent years.

Maybe you’re ready to take your chances with your own health, but consider that a bout of flu means you risk infecting patients or going out of commission and not being able to care for patients at all.

Most likely, the bulk of nurses would get vaccinated if it were easy and convenient to fit it into their busy lives. Hospitals that make vaccines more accessible to their employees by setting up on-site stations for free vaccinations during every shift have high participation rates.

Almost as high as workplaces that mandate vaccination as a condition of employment or otherwise pressure nurses to comply by requiring unvaccinated personnel to wear a face mask, say.

If your health care workplace hasn’t made it easy to get vaccinated, take matters in your own hands. Commit to a day and time to stop at a clinic or pharmacy that offers drop-in vaccination. Most insurance plans will fully cover the cost of a flu vaccine, which isn’t expensive anyhow. Don’t put it off too long – make sure your protected before flu season is in full swing.

And of course you should continue to wash your hands often at work and to stay home if you do come down with the flu.

But don’t stop your self-care with a flu shot. Ask your health care provider what preventative care is necessary for you based on age, gender, family history, and other health risk factors.

For example, here are some of the screenings that may be appropriate for a woman between the ages of 18 and 39, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • Blood Pressure Screening
  • Cholesterol Screening
  • Diabetes Screening
  • Dental Exam
  • Eye Exam
  • Immunizations
  • Physical Exam
  • Breast Self-Exam and Mammogram
  • Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear
  • Skin Self-Exam

Stick to the same time of year for these routine tests, so you remember to schedule them and to make sure your insurance coverage applies. (An annual well-woman visit may be fully covered, for example, but only within 30 days of last year’s appointment.)

Make a note in your planner to call a few months in advance of when you’d like an appointment to be sure you can book it.

Take your preventative health care as seriously as you do that of your loved ones. That way, you’ll remain in good shape for a long time for them.