This topic has been tossed around for years in the press – mandatory flu shots. Trying to get a grip on it might start with a small handful of “mandatory” rules we’re expected to follow.
But we are surrounded with “mandatory” in the health community. Childhood vaccinations are required to enter public school. The school nurse examines the vaccination record and informs parents of what vaccinations are due, and they get them from the county (usually at no charge) or their pediatrician.
The diseases these childhood vaccines prevent are genuinely nasty. The vaccines are safe and effective, and the people involved are children that don’t have many legal rights. So there are almost no loud complains about mandatory childhood vaccinations.
“Mandatory” items for adults are more common than we would like to admit. Paying your taxes and stopping at all red lights are both pretty mandatory. In each of these we give up something personal to get something for the benefit of all.
Sometimes what we give up is something minor, like the right to drive through red lights and get there two minutes faster. And, in trade, we don’t get killed or kill someone else on the roadway.
Asking people to vote for mandatory flu vaccine would be like asking them to vote for higher taxes – it just doesn’t fly. The answer no is instantaneous and reflexive.
But what are you giving up when you get a flu shot?
1. Freedom from pain: A flu shot hurts a bit; you don’t have to take my word for it. My 10-year-old daughter will tell you it hardly hurts. She reminds me to give her a flu shot every winter, and she is an expert in avoiding pain and unpleasantness. By the way, flu-mist is flu vaccine you snort – no needles, just as viable an alternative.
2. Money from your pocket: Flu shots cost $20 or $25, which is a couple of videos, dinner for two at the local fast food dining establishment, and maybe some really cheap sneakers at the discount store. Believe me, you would pay more than $25 dollars to make the flu go away if you get it.
3. Small fraction of gas: Since flu shots are available at U.S. HealthWorks and similar clinics, many drug stores and grocery stores, you probably pass dozens of flu shot opportunities in your travels. It also takes a minute or two of your priceless life, maybe the time you spent at two red lights on the way to work.
So you trade 3 minutes, $20 dollars, a thimble full of gas, and less pain than it takes to make a 10-year-old girl nervous.
But what do you get, avoiding a case of influenza. Is flu so bad? We are talking 103-plus fever, often accompanied by bad dreams (hallucinations) and every muscle in your body screaming at you. Do you know how many muscles you have?
This is all going to continue for a week to 10 days. A doctor can’t help you and you might give the flu to the rest of your family. And in the worse-case scenario, sometimes people even die.
Influenza vaccine is among the safest vaccines we have. The downside risk is almost non-existent. Should flu shots be mandatory? They already are in many healthcare institutions and schools. Should they be mandatory for the rest of us is the question?
How do you feel about second-hand smoke? The chance of your housemate giving you the flu is thousand times higher than giving you cancer. How many people do you get close to every day at work or the grocery store?
At home, do you really want your loved ones to get such an awful disease. Do you want them to pass on to you a serious and sometimes fatal illness? Are you ready to take a week or more off work or school with no warning?
People who work with the public should be vaccinated, and it should be mandatory. You should not have to fear going out to buy a few groceries. This saves lives and saves an immense burden of illness on those we contact each day.
If you live in a cabin in the woods and make birdhouses, you are not a public health threat. But who is going to take care of you if you get the flu? Near universal vaccination would save between 20,000 and 40,000 American lives every year.
You tell me, should the influenza vaccine be mandatory?
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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