Vaccination and the flu: Your best shot for health

african kings

The flu is here. Are you ready?

Approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. Those with chronic diseases are even more susceptible to these complications. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working hard to ensure that high-risk communities are educated about the benefits of vaccination.

People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, arthritis or diabetes, for example, have a heightened risk for serious complications.

“Vaccination is very important because it protects the individual and gives him or her a greater sense of well-being,” says Beulah Teachey, Ph.D., R.N. “You also protect those around you, and your children, if you have them.”

Teachey, a member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, is also a member of the NAACP and president of the Black Nurses Association. The latter two organizations partnered with the CDC last week to educate African-Americans about the influenza vaccination – also called a “flu shot” – as part of the CDC’s annual observance of National Influenza Vaccination Week.

There has already been a significant increase in U.S. flu activity over the last two weeks, signaling an early flu season this year. And, according to the CDC, a flu vaccine will be needed, even if one was obtained last year because flu viruses are constantly changing.

Flu season typically occurs in the fall and winter, with flu activity peaking in January or February, but it can occur as early as October and as late as May. Symptoms include fever, aches, chills, cough and sore throat.

Other groups at risk for developing complications are seniors and children. That’s why Grace Cooper, an Atlanta-area certified nursing assistant, decided to have her children vaccinated. Jasmine, her 16-year-old daughter was the first.

“Jasmine was getting a physical, and her doctor recommended that I get her vaccinated,” Cooper says. “I’m glad I did.”

Several studies on influenza vaccination among African-Americans actually show that Cooper isn’t unique. The patients studied were more likely to get the flu vaccination when their doctor recommended one.

“I work in healthcare and in my past experience I don’t know of anyone who got the vaccination and then got sick. So it is a precautionary measure. I even got my one-year-old grandson vaccinated, and I am going to get vaccinated, too,” Cooper continues.

Cooper’s doctor, Dr. Winston Price, says that yearly vaccination has multiple benefits.

“[It] provides the best protection to children, families, and communities to keep them healthy and lower their risks of hospitalization,” Price explains.

But, despite its benefits, not all are eager to get the flu vaccine.

Take John Eric Rembert, for example. Rembert, a retired Army veteran, says he was and remains leery of the flu vaccine, but was required to get it while he was active duty.

“The Army made vaccination a requirement, especially when H1N1 [swine flu] broke out,” the Beacon, N.Y. resident says. “I always had minor side effects after I got the shot. Nothing big, just cold symptoms and a headache, but I never got the flu.”

African-Americans are sometimes less likely to get the flu vaccine because, Teachey says, “bad information is communicated through word-of-mouth. Someone might tell a friend or a family member that they had a bad experience with vaccination, but they fail to relay all of the facts. A person should not allow one experience, or someone else’s experience to dictate whether or not they get it.”

Common hindrances also involve a mistrust of health care providers, a lack of awareness of the vaccine’s benefits, or fear that the vaccine itself will cause illness.

But, Price cautions those who wait to get vaccinated.

“Not getting vaccinated is like crossing a street without looking both ways for traffic. You might get lucky, but you risk getting hit — by the flu — and some people get killed. The shot is easy, safe and in most cases it is free,” he says.

If you have doubts about getting the flu vaccine, have a talk with your physician and get all the facts.

A Few Flu Facts

  • Influenza – or “the flu” — is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death.
  • Older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.
  • This season’s flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, another influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.

Kimberly N. Alleyne is a veteran journalist and communications professional who writes about public health and health care policy, religion and social justice issues. Follow her on twitter at @kimalleyne.