Influenza Vaccine Uptake Here at the College

My arm, 2011I take the influenza vaccine just about every year, and blogged about my reasons for doing so last year. But I was curious about my co-workers: we work in an organization whose mission is “to advance the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine.” Would they be more likely than the average American to take the vaccine? Or would we look roughly like the American population, of whom about 58% pass up the vaccine?

I managed to talk to just about everyone here who works directly for the College in a full-time capacity. I told people that they were not obligated to answer my question (one person declined to participate). In response to “Did you get a flu shot this year?” 13 people responded that they had, and 17 people said that they hadn’t. So, here at the College we have about 43% uptake of the vaccine, on par with the national 42%. I was surprised.

Why didn’t everyone here take the vaccine? (Barring individual contraindications, we are all recommended to get the vaccine, according to current guidelines.) One respondent is allergic to thimerosal, a preservative used in some formulations of influenza vaccine. Others responded that they intended to get the vaccine but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. As one woman said, “If someone came here today with a flu shot and offered it to me, I’d get it. I’m not against it, I just haven’t made it a priority.” A few co-workers have lived recently in England and mentioned that it seemed odd that just about everyone here in the United States is recommended to get the vaccine, whereas in Great Britain, it’s reserved for those in high-risk groups. They haven’t yet accustomed themselves to the different recommendations here.

A few others stated that they never took the flu vaccine and had no intention of doing so. Several people said that they never got the flu, and so didn’t worry about it. Other vaccine decliners said that they got the vaccine once and then got sick, or that they knew someone who took the vaccine and then got sick. “So how do you think the flu vaccine made your friend sick?” I asked one co-worker. She responded, “I don’t really know if it made her sick, but isn’t it quite a coincidence?” In these cases I always like to reply, “But that’s what a coincidence is!!” Of course, I was tempted to defend the vaccine: the inactivated vaccine can’t make you sick with flu, the vaccine takes about two weeks to work, lots of other viruses that cause flu-like symptoms are circulating along with the flu, and etc. But I needed to make my way through the building.

Most of us here have insurance that covers the entire cost of the vaccine, so cost isn’t an issue. A few people mentioned that they didn’t get the vaccine because they hadn’t planned to be at the doctor’s office during flu season – they weren’t aware that they could simply go to the local drugstore and get the vaccine at the pharmacy there. (That’s what I did. But pharmacies here in Pennsylvania won’t give the vaccine to children younger than 18 years old, so I had to take my daughter to an urgent care clinic to get her vaccine. If her pediatrician’s office had more convenient hours, I would have taken her there. But I didn’t want to miss work, or take her out of school, to get the shot at the pediatrician’s office. So, I do understand that it’s not always easy or convenient to get the shot. )

We’ve had our share of people taking sick days here, but it’s difficult to know whether anyone has had influenza. It will be interesting to see if this season of heightened influenza activity prompts more of my co-workers to get the vaccine. In the meantime, I hope you avoid the flu and stay healthy!