Are You Up To Date On Your Immunizations, Including The Flu Shot?

d79dd279219173df5b77ee3755b18d8b-huge-hoThe past year and a half, you’ve been busy. You’ve probably worked longer hours while juggling more tasks at home. Some routine tasks, like preventive medical appointments and immunizations, may have fallen to the bottom of your to-do list. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 4 in 10 American adults avoided medical care in 2020 because of concerns related to COVID-19.

“I’ve seen many reports that immunizations for kids are down because people were missing appointments,” said Chad Rittle, DNP, MPH, RN, FAAOHN, Associate Professor of Nursing at Chatham University. “If you’re not taking your children, are you going to take yourself? There is more focus on immunizations for kids compared to adults — but adult vaccinations are just as important.”

Despite the roar of the pandemic still upon us, now is as good of a time as any to catch up on missed or delayed vaccinations. Check with your primary care provider to see which vaccines you may need based on your age and risk factors. The CDC recommends the following vaccinations for employees in a healthcare field who are at risk for exposure to serious, sometimes deadly diseases:
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Meningococcal
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubella)
  • Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis)
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)

Additionally, the American Nurses Association recommends that nurses be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Upcoming Flu Season
Last year’s flu season was not severe — possibly because many people stayed home, wore masks around others and practiced social distancing to avoid contracting COVID-19. Additionally, large numbers of Americans got the flu shot for the 2020-21 flu season.  This year, experts are expecting the flu to be more significant, possibly because last year was so minor. The CDC states that last year’s low flu virus activity may have caused reduced population immunity, which could result in an early and more severe flu season.

“I don’t think anyone has a real grasp on how significant it will be,” said Chad. “Regardless, everyone eligible should try to get vaccinated this fall, the earlier the better.”

It’s perfectly safe to get both a flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine, even at the same time. This year, the CDC says that “all flu vaccines will be quadrivalent (four component), meaning designed to protect against four different flu viruses.”

In terms of timing, the CDC states that September and October are the ideal months to get a flu vaccine. In a perfect situation, everyone would be vaccinated by the end of October — just as flu season starts to accelerate.

Immunizations and Patient Safety
Nurses especially need to prioritize their own immunizations because it plays a direct role in patient safety. Many patients who are hospitalized have comorbidities like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory conditions. If a nurse contracts and passes on the flu virus, it could have serious (even fatal) consequences for these higher-risk patients.

“The code of ethics for nurses is to do no harm,” said Chad. “If nurses aren’t protecting themselves against illnesses like the flu, they’re also not protecting their family members, friends, and patients.”

Another reason getting the flu shot (and routine immunizations) is crucial for nurses is the opportunity it provides for education. Nurses are one of the most trusted professions, and patients look to them as examples. A nurse has the full scope of their patient’s health history and risks, and they can use this knowledge to educate patients on the importance of vaccines.

“If a nurse can explain the comorbidities and higher risk of severe illness to patients, they can better explain why the patient needs the vaccine,” said Chad. “The nurse can look at the patient and say, ‘You need this vaccine because of all of the reasons I just shared.’”

In nursing, you should never pass up the opportunity to educate. And as Chad also stated, you should “never pass up the opportunity to vaccinate.”

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Posted by Holly E Carpenter, RN, BSN on Oct 11, 2021 9:58 AM America/Chicago

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