Flu Vaccine for Healthcare Workers
Each year, from late fall to early spring, the healthcare industry is inundated with sick patients with cough, fever, headaches, body aches, chills, and many other miserable symptoms caused by the Influenza virus. Mild cases result in days off work or school to rest in bed, while more severe cases can lead to hospitalization, intubation, and even death. The flu affects all ages and healthcare workers are by no means immune from becoming one of the millions affected by the flu each year. In fact, healthcare professionals play a pivotal role in either aiding or preventing the spread of this nasty respiratory virus. In addition to frequent hand washing and appropriate use of personal protective equipment, getting a flu vaccine is an easy and effective way to help healthcare workers stay healthy and prevent the spread of influenza.
Keeping Yourself Healthy
The main reason to get a flu vaccine when you work in healthcare is to protect yourself from infection. Depending on the setting you work in, you might encounter hundreds of patients each week that are infected with the virus, some symptomatic, and some not yet showing symptoms but still shedding the virus and putting you at risk of infection. While the flu shot is not 100% accurate, getting a vaccine still reduces your risk of illness significantly and also decreases the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. Staying healthy during flu season can save you many days of missed work and lost pay. Most healthcare facilities will provide flu vaccines to their employees free of charge as an incentive to participate in this act of public health.
Preventing Spread of Infection to Patients
Vaccination also keeps you from spreading the flu to the patients you come in contact with. Infected individuals are contagious for several days before they become symptomatic, so if you get the flu you could unknowingly spread this virus to many patients through your regular job duties before realizing you are sick. The higher the percentage of vaccinated employees at a healthcare facility, the less likely a patient is to contract the disease while there. This is particularly important for any patients who are too young to get a flu vaccine (<6 months), those who are elderly or in poor health, those who have a compromised immune system or are receiving chemotherapy, or those who cannot get a flu vaccine themselves for any other reason. The vaccine contains an attenuated, or deactivated, virus that is not capable of survival or replication inside a human host, therefore you cannot spread the flu after receiving a flu vaccine.
Who Should Get a Vaccine?
Anyone older than 6 months of age without a medical indication to avoid the vaccine should be vaccinated. Even healthy people who “never get sick” should be vaccinated (this apparent health is based on luck, not a super-powered immune system). Valid medical contraindications include a previous adverse reaction to a flu vaccine, history of Guillain-Barr syndrome, currently receiving chemotherapy, or other reasons determined by your healthcare provider. Those who work in healthcare have a particular responsibility to protect the patients they serve and keep them safe from disease when possible, and vaccination is one of the most effective ways to uphold this responsibility and promote public health.