Flu shots matter: Nurses must get the facts and spread the word

Jan Lynch, RN

Jan Lynch, RN

By Janice Petrella Lynch, RN, MSN
Nurse Editor & Nurse Executive

Every year my family waits for my emails reminding them that it’s flu shot time, and then they enjoy pointing out who was the most cooperative and who was not. I’m grateful that in the end they’re all compliant, regardless of how many reminders I need to send.

Like everyone, they know that the flu is no joking matter. Each year, thousands get it and suffer symptoms ranging from annoying to serious, debilitating and even deadly. That’s why flu shots matter.

Clinical evidence shows potential benefits of the vaccine far outweigh potential harm for most, and that getting immunized is the best way to reduce incidence and lessen spread. Fortunately, we nurses are largely compliant, but not all our healthcare colleagues are. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 80% of RNs were vaccinated by last November, as compared with 63% of other healthcare groups.

As nurses, I believe we’re in a perfect position to encourage one another and our co-workers to get the flu shot. We also can urge those at risk for serious flu complications, particularly children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions, to get immunized.

There are some arguments we may hear as to why the flu shot isn’t necessary. To counter them, we need to educate ourselves with the best information and research. According to the CDC, there is greater risk for serious complications from the flu than from the shot, and even if the flu shot isn’t a perfect match for every virus, the three it does include provide broad protection. Because the vaccine contains inactivated virus, the flu cannot be transmitted via the shot.

There are valid reasons, however, for some not to get immunized, including those who have had severe allergic reactions to chicken eggs or to the flu vaccine itself, and those who have strong religious beliefs against vaccinations. In such cases, discussion with a healthcare provider should take place. And children under 6 months of age should not be vaccinated against the flu.

Nurses can encourage nursing students to get immunized and remind them to include teaching about the flu in their care planning. We can speak with those who work with vulnerable populations, volunteer to give flu shots at local clinics, and discuss the topic at community gatherings and professional meetings.

The flu season is here, so arm yourself with all the information out there, protect yourself and your family and educate your patients and co-workers to do the same. For more information, please read our recent article Face Flu Facts on Nurse.com.

Continuing education resources:

Aging immune systems makes older adults more vulnerable to attack

Adult immunizations: Growing needs, growing numbers

Childhood and adolescent immunization update

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26 Responses to Flu shots matter: Nurses must get the facts and spread the word

  1. I simply think that nurses who don’t get immunized and have contact with patients are practicing unethically.

  2. Laura says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. After doing thorough research the cons most certainly outweigh the pros. As a critical care RN and health coach I am well aware of the risks of the flu however I believe that taking proper care of yourself and building a healthy immune system is a far better way to prevent the flu than subjecting yourself to the neurotoxins that are found in the vaccine. There is not enough evidence that the flu vaccine is effective. As long as I have been in health care I have never had a flu shot. I have taken care of some very sick patients, some with the flu and I have yet to get it. I eat clean, take vitamins and exercise. I am not saying that no one should get it, but I am saying you should research the shot thoroughly before getting it. I have many allergies, and am in fact allergic to formaldehyde which is in the vaccine so even though many facilities are now making this mandatory, I will be exempt. See the following website for more information. http://www.angelfire.com/az/sthurston/flu_shots_and_flu_vaccines.html

    • drlcm76 says:

      Yes! Someone who does her homework!

      • Laura says:

        Not to mention that it is only becoming mandatory at certain facilities because the govt is offering funds if they have 80% compliance. Since so many hospitals are losing funds because of obama care they are jumping at this chance. Taking away our freedom of choice.

  3. William Schindler D.O, FACP, FACG says:

    Sad that you who are refusing are nurses!

  4. claudia nikolopoulos says:

    In no way ahould nurses be requirwd to take flu shots, i am a nurse and do not want a flu shot. If i am sick i will atay home

  5. Melody RN says:

    Nurses should be required to get their flu shot. When nurses vaccinate, not only are they protecting themselves, but they protect their patients and families they come home to. The influenza vaccine decreases the risk of transmitting the virus to immunocompromised members of the community and vulnerable patients that they care for. Nurses who refuse the vaccine for any reasons other than medical are misinformed and in need of educating from coworkers.

  6. Melody RN says:

    Nurses should be required to get their flu shot. When nurses vaccinate, not only are they protecting themselves, but they protect their patients and families they come home to. The influenza vaccine decreases the risk of transmitting the virus to immunocompromised members of the community and vulnerable patients that they care for. Nurses who refuse the vaccine for any reasons other than medical are misinformed and in need of educating and reinforcement from coworkers.

  7. Pat says:

    There is scientific evidence that the flu vaccine reduces hospitalizations and prevents disease. There is scientific evidence that that nurses can shed the flu virus without having symptoms of the disease. There are patients that, due to their age and/ or immune system that cannot receive or do not mount an adequate response to the flu vaccine- this makes it important for nurses to be not shedding disease to them. I get the vaccine every year. There are flu vaccines that do not contain formaldehyde – read package inserts.

  8. Marge Loose, RN says:

    I would rather get the flu shot than become sick with the flu. Every single time I have gotten sick with the flu it has affected my hearing, and I’m ALREADY hearing impaired. I wash my hands, clean the doorknobs, etc. Keep clean hands and avoid your face, nose and mouth if you’ve been touching things which are not clean.

  9. I never received a flu shot as a child. My husband never received a flu shot either. The first flu shot I ever received was in the fall of 1992. That same year my cousin developed Gullian Barre Syndrome after receiving her vaccination. I was working over time as a CNA, going to school full time and under a great deal of stress. As a result I wound up with the flu that New Year’s Eve. I’ve never received the flu shot since and I’ve never come down with the flu. I believe eating right, exercising, keeping stress at bay (as best as you can) and hand washing are ways to stay healthy. I just don’t understand insulting our immune systems yearly in order to take the chance you’ll fend off the flu or supposedly lessen the symptoms. Where is the proof vaccination prevents the spread? Isn’t it possible for a nurse or other caregiver to spread the virus with poor hand washing technique?

    • Laura says:

      EXACTLY!!! We have become accustomed to “the quick fix” and by creating these quick fixes we are in turn hurting ourselves even more. KISS…”keep it simple stupid” take care of your bodies, use good hand hygiene and asceptic techniques…just as you always have. I know 3 people who have developed either gullian barre or other devastating neurological disorders from the vaccine and in my book that’s 3 too many!!!

  10. Lauren Lancaster says:

    Not had flu in 16 years. Work in long term care setting all those years. Lose many residents each year that were immunized. The only time I ever received the flu vaccine was about 13 years ago. I was sick the entire winter, over and over again. I nearly lost my job, because my calling out sick was an inconvenience. I am an American with rights. I don’t feel it is anyone’s right to force me to take an injection I don’t want! This is free country last I looked. Let us make our own decisions! And yes, contrary to what some people think— it is an educated decision. Thank you.

  11. Melissa says:

    I am 45 yrs old, been a nurse for 10 yrs. For the first time ever, I am forced to get a flu shot this year. I have until mid December to comply or I must wear the mask all flu season. I am going to try it because I don’t want to wear a mask. I am frankly terrified. Yes, I have had flu as child twice with high fevers of 103+, hacking cough, body aches – so what? I had + flu swab twice as an adult but disease was much milder. So that’s 4 times. Yes, my family and I are fully vaxed for everything else under the sun including Menactra, Prevnar, Gardasil, Hep A. Just not flu. I don’t want it!!! I am forced to and I just can’t believe how many people have drank the flu shot Kool-Aid and now believe we all need to be jabbed once a year for our entire lives to cut in half the chances of such a benign, infrequent, self-limiting, mutable viral illness. I personally know two nurses who got Guillain Barre. Both had flu shots recently before onset, both had gotten flu shots before with no incident. Maybe two people doesn’t seem like a lot to you but it does to me.

    To say I am endangering others is ridiculous and hurtful. We care about our patients, but we also care about ourselves. What I am doing is working – it’s been 10 years of working in healthcare and I’ve not had the flu. I give flu shots every day to those who want them – why can’t people let me be?

  12. Marcy R.N. says:

    “Clinical evidence shows potential benefits of the vaccine far outweigh potential harm for most, and that getting immunized is the best way to reduce incidence and lessen spread.”

    First, you said ” potential benefits”. Are “potential” benefits now the new criteria to force people to inject something into their body that they have major concerns about?

    ” far outweigh potential harm for most”? That is an amazing statement to offer to other medical professionals. Who are the “most” and who are not the “most”? And do we allow for the “not most” to not have the vaccine? And WHO get’s to decided this benefit verses risk factor?

    On top of the above, the “clinical evidence” shows no such thing because there just is no evidence because the studies have not been done. But here is what HAS been done:

    June 4, 2013

    http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD001269/vaccines-to-prevent-influenza-in-healthy-adults

    In average conditions (partially matching vaccine) 100 people need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms. Vaccine use did not affect the number of people hospitalised or working days lost but caused one case of Guillian-Barré syndrome (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) for every one million vaccinations

    July 23, 2013

    http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD005187/influenza-vaccination-for-healthcare-workers-who-care-for-people-aged-60-or-older-living-in-long-term-care-institutions

    “There is no evidence that only vaccinating healthcare workers prevents laboratory-proven influenza or its complications (lower respiratory tract infection, hospitalisation or death due to lower respiratory tract infection) in individuals aged 60 or over in LTCIs and thus no evidence to mandate compulsory vaccination of healthcare workers.”

    Further, there is evidence that Seasonal Flu Vaccine Could Increase Future H1N1 Infection Risk. http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/03/03/cid.cit060.abstract?sid=7ad27582-da5c-4e7e-81af-f7e6b0855667

    Treanor JJ and Szilagyi P. Influenza Vaccine: Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Clinical Infectious Diseases Feb. 14, 2013.

    Skowronski DM, De Serres G, Crowcroft NS, et al. Association between the 2008-09 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine and Pandemic H1N1 Illness during Spring-Summer 2009: Four Observational Studies from Canada. PLoS Med 2010; 7(4).

  13. I can see that there are many differing opinions here. i believe what is important is that as healthcare providers we put ourselves, our families and our patients first. I have taken the flu vaccine for every year of my nearly 25 years of being a nurse. There have been years that I developed influenza after receiving the vaccine and there have been more years where I have not gotten the flu after the vaccine. I blame on my memory B- cells, and the strain of influenza in the community. When we are given a particular vaccine for a particular strain and there is a different strain in our places of work or in the community and our immune systems are weak well we are susceptible. As for it being mandatory, for me that is a different story. I have always taken the vaccine to protect myself, my family, and my patients with influenza, and my patients potentially from me. I do not believe in forcing anyone into taking something into their body that they do not want. As a fellow nurse I will always support the right to self-determination. I believe we need to support each other in our choices as well as respect them.

  14. Marcy R.N. says:

    More from Cochrane:

    Clinical question: Do vaccines prevent influenza in healthy adults?

    Bottom line:
    There is insufficient evidence to decide whether routine vaccination to prevent influenza in healthy adults is effective. Influenza vaccination did not affect the number of people needing to go to hospital or to take time off work (the follow up period was up to 3 months post vaccine).

    The Cochrane analysis found no evidence to support compulsory vaccination of HCW

    Even the CDC is admitting this now

    http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2013/09/analysis-finds-limited-evidence-hcw-flu-vaccination

    Now here is another question not answered that is EXTREMELY important to this policy:
    Does the vaccine actually stop the spread of influenza FROM vaccinated people?

    And where does this end?

    A few months ago there was a new push to start a mandatory campaign to vaccinate health care workers against pertussis

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196655312013417

    And yet some very convincing research has just been published showing the current whooping cough vaccine may allow people to spread the disease even if they don’t get sick.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/20/1314688110

    NO vaccine should ever be mandated and clearly certainly not when we really do not know all that much about true benefit verses risk.

  15. Marcy,
    There is enough evidence related to the influenza vaccine that speaks to both sides of the issue. I believe what we are missing here is a healthcare organizations right to put into place mandatory programs that they believe will protect their patient populations, meet state and federal guidelines, and their internal policies that will also protect all of their employees as well. Again what I believe is important is that we as professionals respect the rights of our fellow co-workers to either take or refuse the vaccine.

  16. Marcy R.N. says:

    Shirley, I completely agree that we should respect the rights of our fellow co-workers to either take or refuse the vaccine. However, I do not believe healthcare organizations have the right to mandate a medicine to a healthy and especially a pregnant employee
    especially when they will take no responsibility for a bad outcome, when the evidence is clearly not agreed on by experts and most importantly when there are other methods that we KNOW work better that do not require forcing people to take an injection that everyone admits can have risks, even if they are small.

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