Do You Protect Your Herd?

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(Warning! Today I’m sharing a personal opinion for which I don’t expect total agreement. But I’m steadfast in my belief. I have science behind me. I’m girded for argument… bring it on!)

When I began my patient empowerment work in 2005, I had little or no understanding of the benefits of getting a flu shot except that – maybe – it would protect me from getting the flu. But I didn’t feel like I was at risk; I lived alone, I worked from home, my kids were no longer in school (where flu runs rampant!), and I was still relatively young. I’ve always hated getting shots, so why should I bother?

It was my right to say NO flu shot for me! And I didn’t get one.

In 2007, I became the patient empowerment expert for About.com, writing hundreds of articles and blog posts each year to teach patients how to become smart patients. My work required a great deal of research into every topic imaginable as it regarded taking responsibility for our healthcare, and making wise choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Then 2009 rolled around and we began hearing about swine flu… THAT was when I began to learn more about the real need for flu vaccines, their history, how they work, the myths generated by the fearful and conspiracy theorists each year, and – yes – the merits of flu shots.

Since 2009, I have gotten my flu shot every fall. I’ve decided I’m unwilling to take any chances.

Take chances?  For what? (you might ask) My circumstances haven’t changed much since 2009 in terms of possible exposure, so why would I be any more concerned today than I was before then?

The answer is actually quite simple, but way too often gets lost in the arguments made against the flu vaccine. That is – that even if we don’t believe we need the vaccine to protect ourselves, we owe it to the people around us to be vaccinated. We owe it to our herd.

Our herd?

Absolutely. Our herd – the people in our proximity. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers we encounter in daily life. in particular, we owe our own flu protection to the infants, or the elderly, or others who are immuno-compromised who are part of our herd – those people who, if exposed to the flu that WE might give them (even if we don’t feel or look sick) could die or at least weaken because we transmitted the flu to them.

To me, now that I understand herd immunity, there is no decision to be made. After my research in 2009, I stopped to think: my parents were both elderly and ill, my grandchildren were just babies…. The most loving thing I could do for them was to be vaccinated. It was no longer about me. It was about them.

Beyond our own loved ones, as advocates who work with individuals who have health challenges of every kind, over the course of the many months of flu season we encounter those at risk more than we realize. We meet clients or potential clients and their family members in offices, or in homes, or in hospitals as we do our work. We also expose (and are exposed to) people in supermarkets and drug stores, or churches or temples, the mall or the movies, or anywhere else we go where there are crowds of people.

It boils down to personal preference and rights – vs – protecting others.

I choose to put my personal preference on a shelf, in order to protect my herd. I could never live with myself if I knew I was responsible for making someone else deathly ill.

So now you know where I stand on the flu vaccine! I got my flu shot this year on October 6th.

I’ll ask you – where do you stand?  As professionals who are exposed themselves, and more importantly for today’s argument, who expose others who may not be able to survive the flu…. where do YOU stand?

(For the record – I’m quite aware that some people cannot get the flu vaccine. No, I don’t expect anyone – advocate or not – to put their own health at risk. But I also know there are plenty of people who simply use possible risk as an excuse, even when it isn’t true risk.)

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Comments

  1. soyrosalia  November 16, 2015

    I’ve been in healthcare for over 30 years, and I have seen almost 1/4 of our nursing home population debilitated and over 15 die from complications of the flu one year.
    Most medical facilities require immunization, but many nursing homes, home health agencies and assisted living facilities do not require it, nor do they pay for it if you choose to get it.
    I know it’s going to make me a little sick. It’s ok, I’m able to withstand it and even plan for it.
    It’s a small price to pay for keeping my herd and extended herd well.
    We have this big fear of a pandemic or epidemic, yet we let fear allow us to spread it.

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