Protecting the Public One Influenzae Vaccine at a Time

For many of us in the clinical and public health field receiving a flu shot is an annual occurrence. Each one of us makes the decision to receive the influenza vaccination for a number of reasons. Perhaps we do not want to become ill, we want to protect our loved ones, or this is one of the ways we support antimicrobial stewardship efforts on a personal level. Regardless we make these decisions because we are informed, we know how important the influenzae vaccine is not only for ourselves but to the health of the public too.

girl fluBut what if you didn’t go to school for public health or the medical field? Would you still get the flu vaccine? What if you read in a newspaper the influenzae vaccine is only predicted to be 10% effective this year? Many people this year have been in this situation, unsure if receiving the influenzae vaccination is a good choice. While the statistic of 10% effectiveness is not wrong in its entirety, the value does not convey to the public how the value was arrived upon nor what exactly the number means. While the public may interpret the information to mean there is only a 10% chance this year's vaccine will protect them from the flu, this is not the case.

The value was an estimate of the vaccine’s effectiveness against only one of the circulating strains of flu (H3N2) in Australia, and does not take into account the protection provided against other flu strains targeted this year . Vaccine effectiveness also varies by geographic location, since circulating strains differ depending on the region examined. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have utilized their robust projection tools to study the common H3N2 strain in the United States and have found it to be similar to the virus used to create the vaccine1. The CDC will continue to monitor and collect data as the flu season progresses1.

The media’s portrayal of information regarding the effectiveness of the current influenzae vaccine is a symptom of the larger issue of communicating health information to the public. Providing correct yet easily understandable information to patients and the public about health information can be difficult, but can have a large impact on the engagement of the patient in their own healthcare. We can make a difference everyday by directing patients and those you serve to credible unbiased sources of information with appropriate health literacy levels. Utilize already existing resources to promote influenzae vaccinations in common areas. Or perhaps share with your patients or clients what your reason was for getting the flu vaccine and encourage questions. When the devastation of the 1918 influenza pandemic is no longer within the memory of the public, we as public health professionals need to remember and share the importance of influenzae vaccinations.

Written by NHPHA Member and subject expert Carly Zimmermann MPH MLS(ASCP)
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