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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Who Needs Flu Vaccinations This Year?

Published September 14, 2009 9:19 AM by Vern Enge
To get vaccinated against the flu this season or not get vaccinated; This is a huge question currently dividing the nation's medical community. Some states like New York currently require such immunizations, including the new one for H1N1 (swine flu); most do not, leaving decisions on flu shots up to individuals and hospitals.

There is no single "best" answer available. Some caregivers object to vaccinations on the basis that new shots available may not be effective or may even could trigger flu or flu symptoms; others argue it will be impossible almost to track vaccination use among millions of health care workers, leaving potential gaps in health care protection overall.

Respiratory therapists certainly are a vital component in the health care arena. They provide direct care to the sickest of the sick in the nation's clinics. The decisions they make as to endure the minor pain of the working end of a vaccination needle will have a major impact on the overall health of their patients. If they opt out, they run the risk of passing on the flu to their patients; on another important level, if they fail to get the vaccine, they can succumb to the disease and be unavailable to care for their patients at all.

If the past years are any example, roughly one of two caregivers opted out of the vaccine for the season. Will the scare of swine flu change the formula? That remains to be seen.

So far, nobody from either the respiratory care or the sleep medicine communities has started a drum roll for a PR campaign for getting an arm ready for the needle. And some caregivers are taking a low-key approach for the time being.

Results of a current ADVANCE poll indicate 43 percent of our audience think swine flu is media hype. Only 14 percent are getting ready for a swine flu epidemic.

Deborah Burger, of the California Nurses Association, said safety concerns persist over the new vaccine. Her union, with 86,000 members in 50 states, is weighing whether or not to support required flu shots for nurses. She said her union believes patients should be protected but also wants to protect nurses from any potential vaccine-related problems.

Some clinicians fear a repeat of repercussions of diseases like Guillain-Barre syndrome which surfaced as a potential side-effect during the 1976 swine flu vaccination effort 33 years ago.

Just as important an issue is what might happen to the therapists and nurses who refuse to get the one or two shots needed in today's health care vaccination blitz. Hospital officials may have few options to enforce compliance other than firing staff for insubordination. That would be an extreme measure that would do nobody any good in the long run. It would deprive hospitals of the very helpers they would need in a crisis.

What are your own feelings on the issue? Are you for the vaccinations or against them? Why?

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