What You Need to Know About This Year’s Flu Season and Flu Shots
This year we have a buffet of flu vaccine products to choose from, with at least five new ones on the market. Manufacturers have listened to consumers and the race is on to be the product of choice: mist vs. tiny needle, protection against three vs. four strains, egg-free, high dose for seniors, etc. The options are dizzying for physicians, let alone patients.
With multiple products, the conspiracy theorists can be less worried—more than one product for each age demographic is much more reassuring. Currently, the CDC does not endorse one product over the other but does identify at-risk populations and the recommended vaccines to confer the best protection possible. While the flu shot is not 100 percent effective, it is one of our best defenses against protecting ourselves and our most vulnerable populations by attempting to obtain high levels of compliance with the vaccine across all persons over the age of six months.
Health-care providers should help our patients navigate the choices, demystify myths and provide the tools necessary to understand the importance of vaccination in protecting oneself and those most vulnerable around us. With so many products to choose from, this task should be a little easier, but there must be a commitment to counseling patients.
I anticipate that this season, regardless of the number of products on the market, I will be challenged with the same patient concerns: “The flu shot makes me sick,” “I get nauseated when I eat eggs so I can’t get the flu shot,” “I don’t want to upset the apple cart.” (The last one is my personal favorite.) Whatever one’s reason to refuse, there are several reasons to consider the vaccine this year. There is something for everyone, you just have to look at the flu vaccine buffet and choose.
Will Pharma’s use of free market consumerism be what it takes to persuade the public to vaccinate? Industries do better when there is choice: look at the variety of sodas, deodorants and tablets on the market. Pharmacies better get stocking, as should corporations that provide vaccine services to their employees. Consumers like to choose, it’s liberating and possibly lifesaving in the end.
Bindu Kumar, M.D., is a Philadelphia-area physician with expertise in primary care and occupational medicine. She maintains her family medicine board certification in both the United States and Canada.