An eye-opening survey released in August found that doctors fail to offer flu vaccination, even though they are advised to do so. In the study of more than 3,400 American adults, doctors “missed opportunities” to encourage flu vaccination in 10 to 20 percent of cases. The number of missed opportunities was higher among Hispanics and blacks.
The study points to a challenging fact in U.S. health care: Annual flu vaccination rates fall far below recommendations. Only about 43% of Americans ages 6 months and older are vaccinated each year. Yet, about 50,000 people die annually from the flu or related diseases, such as pneumonia. And during particularly bad flu seasons–such as the 2009 epidemic of H1N1 influenza–the death and hospitalization rates can be much higher.
Flu vaccination is inexpensive (or free), safe for most individuals and is not hard to obtain. So what’s the problem? One issue is that doctors don’t offer the vaccination when they have the chance. Flu vaccination season begins around Oct. 1 and lasts into February or even later, depending on the harshness of the flu season. So, even if you’re seeing your doctor for an entirely different medical problem, such as a check-up on your sprained ankle, it’s a good idea to ask your health care provider for a flu shot while you’re in the office. Pregnant women can receive their flu shots during routine prenatal care visits.
“Improved office-based practices could significantly impact…goals to increase influenza vaccine uptake,” says the author of the new study, Jüergen Maurer of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the RAND Corporation in the United States. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Some people prefer to be vaccinated in a doctor’s office, but that’s not necessary. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed flu vaccination programs in workplaces, pharmacies, health departments, urgent care clinics and schools. Insurance plans often cover the cost of a flu shot or require only a small co-payment. City and county health departments typically offer free flu shots to people who cannot afford them.
Flu vaccination is important. Not only do you protect yourself from illness, by becoming immunized you help protect your entire community. If the majority of people in a community are vaccinated, that “herd” immunity helps keep the virus from spreading and infecting people who aren’t eligible for vaccination, such as newborn babies.
Sources: Journal of General Internal Medicine – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-014-2965 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm