Flu Season and Doctors: Following Your Own Advice?

Once the leaves turn and we transition from fall to winter it doesn’t take long before flu shot campaigns start to take effect. While healthcare providers will urge their patients to get their annual flu shot, many don’t follow their own advice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 40% of healthcare professionals will get their annual flu shot.

And that’s not enough.

For healthy individuals, the CDC recommends that all healthcare professionals, medical students, trainees, and other high-risk groups (such as employees of assisted living communities) be vaccinated against the influenza virus. Among unvaccinated healthcare personnel who did not intend to get the flu vaccination during this flu season, the most common reason reported for not getting vaccinated was that they don’t think that flu vaccines work. The second most common reason was that they don’t need the vaccine.

Dr. Téa Collins of the World Medical Association — an international doctors’ group representing over 9 million doctors — is campaigning for greater uptake of flu vaccination by health professionals. Collins says doctors have an “ethical and moral duty” to do all in their power to protect vulnerable patients — and that includes following the official recommendations to have the flu vaccine every year.

“We know that physicians and other healthcare workers are at increased risk of getting the flu virus and of transmitting it, particularly in a clinical setting. The most effective way to prevent this, is immunization against the flu,” she says. “It’s a matter of medical ethics and patient safety.”

With one in five Americans getting the flu every year, it is critical that there are healthy doctors ready to take care of these patients. On average, 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die each year from the influenza virus. Vaccinations can protect both patients and healthcare providers from becoming infected with influenza and transmitting the contagious virus to others.

“We need to lead by our example. If physicians get vaccinated, there is a good chance that patients will emulate their example,” said Dr. Collins.