1-1It’s flu season again and the push is on to convince people to get flu shots so they don’t get sick, and they don’t make other people sick. That is what makes it a public health issue–the need to prevent a flu epidemic or pandemic like the one in 1938.

My teen daughter and I went to a Kaiser clinic in San Francisco last week to get our flu shots. Usually, she gets the nasal version, but it is not being offered this year because a study showed that the mist form was not more effective than someone who didn’t receive the flu vaccine.

One difference this year–Kaiser was giving flu shots for free to anyone who walked in the door. Flu shots have always been free for Kaiser members, but they have not been given to the public. There are no signs advertising free flu shots, but anyone who enters the front door can register and stand in line. What a great idea! They are protecting everyone who comes into the building from the flu, which protects the people they come into contact with from contracting it. That’s very important for those who cannot be vaccinated such as infants under six months.

It is interesting that many healthy people believe they do not need a flu shot. Their reason is often, “I never get the flu so I don’t need it.” Of course, the reason they don’t get sick is because everyone around them doesn’t get sick because they were immunized against the flu. And this group of people, in my experience, tend to be younger in their 20s and 30s, active, and in excellent health. So they are part of the population that believes they are immune to any type of illness.

What they don’t understand is that immunizations to protect populations against contagious diseases are based on herd immunity. In other words, protecting masses of people depends on most of the herd or community being immunized. When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated,  it is difficult for infectious diseases that are contagious to spread, because there are not many people who can be infected. Herd or community immunity is not a substitute for vaccination because it does not provide a high level of protection. The parts of the herd that receive protection are those who cannot be vaccinated such as newborn babies under six months, people with immune disorders, or those who are too sick to be vaccinated.

Kaiser’s gesture of free flu vaccinations to the public is generous. They want to eliminate any barriers to getting vaccinated by making it convenient and free. Public health depends upon all of us as individuals to keep ourselves and community healthy and free of preventable illness.

Is your organization educating your patients about the importance of flu immunizations and eliminating barriers? We all need to do our part to keep ourselves and our public healthy.