The world of medicine is like a bubble. A lot of people THINK they know what goes on there, but unless you're down in the trenches it's unlikely you do. So here is my semi-anonymous blog, here to tell you what really goes on in the life of a medical resident.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Open Season

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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm SO with you on this one. Not getting the flu shot is, imho, quite simply selfish.

9:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully support everything that you have said. And I know that I should get my flu shot.

And there are numerous chances for me to do so, either while I am at the hospital each morning or at the many free flu shot clinics that are offered for the medical students (I am sure I could pop in on those with no questions asked). But I am so crazy busy that the days slip past and, even though I start the day with the flu shot on my mind, I end up going to bed having forgotten yet again.

So if it is so easy for me to get it done then imagine the average busy Joe without such daily free access ...

I am not arguing against anything that you have said. I am just pointing out that, as a young and healthy person, it just does not cross my mind frequently enough to actually get it done. I am sure that I am not the only one who simply does not think of it enough.

12:53 AM

Blogger Oopher said...

I just got mine today. If you don't like getting the needle- keep in mind you get a nifty "I Care" sticker too!

12:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

At my centre, we get candy bars in addition to the stickers for our badges. And, as the nurse giving the shots informed me proudly, they are now full size chocolate bars instead of the halloween fun-sized ones of previous years. :)

2:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the real question is who is better with the larygnoscope, you or the paramedic husband? is there any competition? haha, have a pleasant day.

3:44 PM

Blogger Couz said...

Heh. Since my husband is a Primary Care Paramedic and not an Advanced Care Paramedic, he doesn't intubate. So I win the laryngoscope competition. But he's thinking of upgrading in a year or two, so you might want to ask that question again some day...

6:45 PM

Blogger Liana said...

Have you seen the recent BMJ commentary on the flu shot?

I was a microbiologist before medical school, and I question the value of flu shots for people who are not high risk or in close contact with people who are high risk. I'm by no means anti-vaccination, and I get pretty frustrated with parents who don't want to vaccinate kids. I just don't think the evidence to support the effectiveness of the flu shot is there yet.

I do get my flu shots though, and I think health care workers need to take every precaution possible to protect their elderly patients.

9:06 PM

Anonymous Vally said...

I just got mine today too. I also work in a hospital and we were told that if we didn't get the vaccine, and we later had to stay home because of influenza, we would not get sick pay for the days we are absent.

A few more people signed up for it after that. :P

10:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed reading your Blog about the ER - and have linked to it at my Patient Blog ( You practice in a very difficult environment yet seem to treat it with dignity, professionalism and normalcy – Kudos.

11:49 PM

Blogger VitaminKMD said...

I got my shot Couz! My grover deltoid huuuuuuurts.



6:23 AM

Blogger Couz said...

Ya wanna talk about pain? I got my flu shot last week, and ended up with a 10cm induration on my left deltoid. It hurt like a bitch for three days and left an angry discolouration.

I did the same thing with my last tetanus booster. I blame the same hyperactive immune system that causes me to swell like crazy with every freaking mosquito bite.

We'll commiserate together!

9:26 AM

Anonymous Joy K. said...

Why isn't there more of a push for school-age kids to get flu shots? It seems that the crowded conditions of a school make a perfect place for germs to spread. My classes always experience big attendance drops during flu season, and I can't help but wonder how many people they spread their little 5th-grade germs to.

3:07 PM

Anonymous Jenger said...

Thank you Dr. Couz - I have been convinced. . .I'll look into a clinic in my area for a flu shot next week. . .And, perhaps you've also explained why I swell with every mosquito bite as well . . . hyperactive immune system - well, why should my immune system be any different from my personality. :P

11:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm working on getting my flu shot. I'm not in the hospital a lot, but I do go there once in a while to visit my users. You think that working for the Faculty of Medicine that they would pay for my jab, but sadly, they don't, cheap bastards.

4:46 PM

Anonymous Kay said...

I can't remember having the flu. Ever. Not as a kid in school or as a hospital volunteer. I've never had a flu shot, and hadn't even thought of getting one until reading this. I just started as an ophthalmology technician for a cataract surgeon, consequently the average age of our patients is about 75. If I'm selfish I'll get the shot to protect myself from catching the flu from them -- but common sense tells me that I ought to get it to protect the patients from potentially catching it from me. Hopefully I won't have a reaction like you Couz... although every shot I've had since my teens has left ugly red dots behind... a few more and I'll be able to play connect-the-dots on my deltoid, lol.

2:40 AM

Anonymous crimsonkid85 said...

at my college, the nurses standby with needles ready at the exit of the dining hall. this way, you just finish eating, get your shot, and go along your merry way... :)

2:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have never had the flu in my life (i'm in my early 30s, and so have never bothered with a flu shot. my teenage son never gets the flu, either, nor does my husband.

despite the fact that i do not consider myself to be a moron and i DO consider myself to be a rather thoughtful sort, it never occurred to me that we should get flu shots for OTHER people.

in your opinion, should someone like us who never get the flu be getting flu shots each year regardless?

6:41 PM


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