Health expert: Innovations mean no excuses for not getting flu vaccine

A dose of flu vaccine ready to be administered at a recent event in the Valley. (Photo by Lauren Michaels/Cronkite News)

During his long career in public health, including six years heading the Arizona Department of Health Services, Will Humble has seen plenty of reasons why people pass on a flu vaccination.

But he said egg allergies, fear of needles and worry that the vaccine will lead to the flu are no longer “get out of jail free” cards, starting with the fact that the flu vaccine can be delivered by nasal spray or dermal patch. There’s even a vaccine produced without chicken eggs, he notes.

Stopping the spread

  • Get the flu vaccine.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep hands away from nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or your elbow.
  • Stay home if you are sick with flu-like symptoms.

Source: Arizona Department of Health Services

Map: Flu in Arizona, 2014-2015 season

“If you think about the options we have today for getting a flu vaccine, it’s really, you know, anyone can pretty much choose about whatever vaccine they want,” said Humble, now division director for health policy and evaluation at the University of Arizona’s Center for Population Science & Discovery. “There really aren’t any excuses anymore.”

With the new flu season beginning Oct. 3, Humble and others are urging people to overcome whatever concerns they may have and get vaccinated. The benefits, they say, include greater overall immunity to curtail the flu’s spread and protecting those most vulnerable to the disease’s potentially fatal effects.

Those include young children, pregnant women and senior citizens.

“Flu is not a minor thing,” said Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “Every year in our community hundreds of people will die because they got the flu and got complications or complicated some other health issue that they have.”

The current flu season, stretching back to September 2014 was especially difficult because the flu vaccine – always an informed guess based on strains expected to come out of the Southern Hemisphere – wasn’t nearly as effective as usual against what turned out to be the predominant strain.

“There are some years when a circulating strain is introduced and throws the public health system a wild card and it’s not anticipated, and those years the influenza vaccine is sometimes less effective,” Humble said.

This year’s flu vaccine is forecast to be far more effective, according to Humble, England and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Humble noted that the flu vaccine is widely available at pharmacies, urgent care clinics and other locations.

“Just a few years ago, in my beginning years as the director of the state health department, people were kinda stuck having to go to their doctor to get the flu vaccine,” he said.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health recently offered flu vaccines during an emergency preparedness expo at Metrocenter Mall. Azaraee Blackmore used the opportunity to get vaccinated in order to protect her 3-month-old daughter.

“If you can keep your kid from getting sick or protect them in anyway then yeah, definitely go do it,” she said.

Humble said getting the flu vaccine is the most effective thing a person can do to protect self, family and the community against the disease.

“We can achieve what’s called ‘herd immunity’, and we could actually dramatically reduce the number of influenza cases we have in Arizona if we could just get more people to take that step and get vaccinated, not just for themselves but for their family and for their community,” he said.