Did you get a flu shot this year? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, many people in the healthcare industry have felt pressured by their workplace to get a flu vaccine. In some cases, they could lose their job if they don’t.
The problem is that no one’s quite sure whether the flu vaccine is genuinely safe to use during pregnancy. You’ll find conflicting opinions from different sources, and the existing reproductive studies have used animal models.
The issue of pressure for nurses to get flu shots has been around since the Swine Flu scare of 2009, and still continues to be a matter of concern. It’s experienced a resurgence because in early 2015, just two years ago, data about vaccination rates of hospital staff became public. Because this was seen as a metric of hospital quality, there was increased pressure for hospitals to ensure that nurses and other medical staff were vaccinated against influenza.
But is this really justified? Is the flu vaccine really as safe as it’s said to be, and is it really necessary or even desirable for healthy adults to get a flu shot?
Do Healthy Adults Really Need a Flu Shot?
Influenza is one of the most common forms of illness for people to contract, especially for otherwise healthy adults. We’ve all gotten the flu a few times over the years, but it’s almost always a pretty mild experience. You get a fever and a lot of fatigue, and you may end up missing a week or two of work while you lay in bed and enjoy the pleasures of Nyquil and hydrocodone cough syrup.
But it’s true that getting the flu isn’t always all fun and games. There are complications that can arise, especially in young children and the elderly, and those complications can be devastating. They can range from mild ear infections, to severe pneumonia due to coinfection. Flu complications can also include encephalitis, rhabdomyolysis, myocarditis, and in rare severe cases, multi-organ failure.
But these generally only happen in individuals who are at a particularly high risk of flu complications. These are demographics that definitely should be vaccinated. Children under 5, senior adults, and people who are immunocompromised are all at risk of serious complications from flu infections that, in a healthier person, would result only in minor illness. American Indians and Alaskan Natives are also at high risk of serious complications from the flu. Influenza is among the leading causes of death for Native senior citizens.
But what about healthy adults without any underlying medical conditions that could put them at risk of flu complications? Do we really need to get vaccinated?
Concern About Nosocomial Infections
Although high-risk groups are given precedence, the CDC does recommend that everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot. For healthcare workers, much of the concern is about the possibility of transmitting an influenza virus to patients. Nosocomial infections are a serious problem in the healthcare industry, and are responsible for many complications and illnesses in patients.
Nosocomial influenza transmission is a matter of serious concern, especially when it comes to patients who are immunocompromised or otherwise at a high risk of adverse complications. Mandatory influenza vaccination policies for healthcare workers are intended to prevent this. Even if you don’t get sick, you could still be carrying the virus. Just because you’re asymptomatic, it doesn’t mean you’re not contagious. Nosocomial influenza outbreaks have occurred in hospitals.
Will Getting Vaccinated Make Me Sick?
There’s about a 2% chance that you could get flu symptoms after receiving an influenza vaccination. It’s a very small risk to take, although some people are more susceptible to this effect than others.
What If I’m Allergic?
You can always be exempt from influenza immunization, even if your workplace requires it, if you’re allergic to the vaccine itself. If you’re allergic to eggs, you’re probably allergic to the flu vaccine. However, as of 2016-2017, the CDC has revised its guidelines regarding people with egg allergies.
If you get hives when you eat eggs, it’s still recommended that you get the flu vaccine, because the benefits may outweigh the risk of a mild allergic reaction. If eggs trigger more serious reactions like angioedema and respiratory distress, and you may require epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, you’ll need to let someone know when you get the shot. However, if you have had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine itself in the past, vaccination is contraindicated.
Flu Shots Help Protect Your Patients
It can seem like an unfair and unwise imposition when your workplace mandates that you receive a vaccination. However, the underlying reason is to protect your patients from nosocomial infections. If you get the flu, you’ll probably be fine, but your elderly and severely ill patients could die from it.