Doctors And Nurses Avoid The Flu Shot
Every fall, the public is barraged by messages from doctors,
nurses and other health care providers to get a flu vaccination
to protect against the influenza virus.
But the truth is, some doctors and nurses might talk the talk
without walking the walk.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, a significant chunk of health care professionals
declined to get vaccinated against the influenza virus during
the 2006-07 flu season, with only about 40 percent opting for
a jab. It's an "abysmal and profoundly sad" statistic, according
to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive
medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, Tenn.
"Both the professional and ethical responsibility of all health
care workers is to be vaccinated annually against influenza,"
Pains, Aches and Chills
One in five Americans get the flu every year, according to
the CDC. Of these, 200,000 are hospitalized and about 36,000
Schaffner added that, in the midst of an influenza outbreak,
it is crucial to have healthy people on hand to take care of
"We need health care workers on the line delivering medical
care," Schaffner said. "We don't need them home sick."
There are legitimate reasons to steer clear of the needle.
People with an egg allergy might avoid getting the vaccine because
viruses for the flu shot are grown in eggs. People with Guillain-Barre
syndrome -- a disease that results in nerve damage -- should
avoid getting vaccinated as well, since respiratory illnesses
can trigger an episode.
But for healthy individuals, the CDC recommends that all health
care personnel, students in training for those professions,
and other high-risk groups such as employees of assisted living
communities be vaccinated against the influenza virus.
Professionals make a variety of excuses for not getting the
influenza vaccine, chief among which are that they are too busy
or that getting vaccinated is inconvenient. Others don't like
needles or believe, mistakenly, that the vaccine will result
in a bout of the flu.
To those professionals, Schaffner said, "Get over it."
But for others, a history of good health can justify declining
Nancy Ludwick, a registered nurse at Scripps Memorial Hospital
in La Jolla, Calif., has had flu vaccinations in the past, particularly
after Scripps began to require formal declination for those
who chose not to receive the vaccine.
After her last vaccination, Ludwick said she got sick. But
this year, Ludwick is experimenting with not getting vaccinated.
"I haven't had the flu in ...  years," Ludwick said. "I
don't like to take anything. I barely take a vitamin. ... I'm
doing my own trial to see how I would feel or not."
Ludwick said she feels more protected than the public, since
nurses wear gloves and wash their hands constantly.
But experts could be concerned about the ability of doctors
and nurses who choose not to get vaccinated to talk up the vaccine
"If a [person] is not ready to take the vaccine themselves,
they are not ready to become an advocate for the vaccine among
patients," Schaffner said.
Still, as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Scripps, Ludwick
finds she treats people who are already very sick and cannot
handle a flu shot. Overall, Ludwick says staff are encouraged
to get vaccinated, rather than required, and that most nurses
she works with do.
Work In Progress
Still, the influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective
against the virus.
"We understand that the vaccine is not perfect," Schaffner
said. "But we're working to make the vaccine better."
Strong support for getting vaccinated is often the key to
achieving vaccination rates above 40 percent.
Anti-vaccination movements across the internet are educating
people on the risks of vaccinations and natural health experts
predict a declining rate in the coming years.