Finally, after years of trying to convince people that the flu shot is actually beneficial, the message has apparently gotten through. Now, instead of running from the shot, people are lining up for it. It probably has more to do with the idea of bird flu coming to North America and wiping out life as we know it (please note the slightly sarcastic tone here) than with the public health benefits of vaccinating against influenza, but I'll take it.
It's about time the message concerning the benefits of the flu vaccine has been accepted. I've been touting it for about five years. Arguing with people who are convinced that it gave them the flu. Arguing with people who had a cold or a gastroenteritis after getting the flu shot and took that as proof that it didn't work. Trying to convince people that even if they don't think that getting the flu is a big deal, they could easily pass it to people before they know they have it-- and for those people, it might be a very big deal.
The problem with trying to push vaccinations in our society is that we live in a culture and time were the rights of the individual are prized above all else. The idea that something might be for the greater good of society is a foreign concept if it means sacrificing one's own personal rights. Introducing any foreign substance into our bodies has a risk, however incredibly small. Trying to convince someone that the risks associated with the elderly woman behind you in line at the supermarket catching the flu because she touched the counter right after you did are serious enough to warrant the barely-significant risk to you getting the flu shot... well, I might as well be speaking Greek.
And therein lies the problem. The idea of a greater good doesn't compute. Why should I get the vaccine if I don't care if I get sick, right? What other reason can possibly warrant vaccination? Why should I care if I accidentally pass the flu to an asthmatic kid who ends up in the hospital?
This is particularly the case with health care workers. In some paramedical fields, flu shots are mandatory for work during the winter months. This, predictibly, leads to tremendous indignant outcry. People don't like being forced to do things-- and being told that they don't have a choice makes people's backs come up. Unfortunately, though, I can see why making it 'mandatory' is necessary. The repercussions of a paramedic, nurse or doctor (particularly doctor, as calling in sick is often simply not an option) passing the flu onto patients who may be high risk for complications can be catastrophic. And even for those who don't have any particular objections to getting the flu shot, life can sometimes get in the way of good intentions. Making it mandatory and administering it at work catches the people who might remain unvaccinated out of apathy.
I got my flu shot last week. My husband, the paramedic, is still unvaccinated. And he won't hear the end of the nagging until he sucks it up and gets the shot. As we all should.