A couple of winters ago, I went to the hospital to make patient rounds and was frightened, literally, as I walked to a the nurses' station. I thought I had become a passive participant in a science-fiction movie. Face masks and computers on wheels were everywhere.
What happened? Did we get a patient infected with a monster virus?
Turns out the hospital's parent company decided to require all the health-care workers who refused to receive a flu vaccine to wear face masks during the flu season, which runs until May.
I wasn't going to debate the scientific wisdom of the decision or the true effectiveness of the policy. It was a desperate attempt to convince health care workers to get the flu vaccine to protect the large number of exposed vulnerable patients and their unvaccinated visitors. People carry the virus and are contagious for a day before they actually develop symptoms.
If the scenery scared me, wouldn't it frighten the public and our ill patients? I was curious why such a large percentage of health-care workers resisted the vaccination.
They freely shared with me their personal, philosophical, moral and medical concerns, beliefs, fears, and objections. Some said they had never caught the flu and were not about to get a shot. Some said they developed the flu after getting a vaccination in the past. Some said they thought the flu was such a minor thing and the vaccine was dangerous. Some were concerned that they may become pregnant and worried about fetal death and autism. Some just did not like things being imposed on them by the authorities and some even thought that the government and the industry were all in it together just to make money.
All these concerns, even though often repeated, have no scientific validity, to my knowledge.
People cannot get the flu from the vaccination (dead virus). However, they can get the flu in spite of the vaccination for several reasons. Not everybody who receives the vaccination develops immunity. It takes about two weeks for the immunity to build up after the vaccine. One may be infected with a different strain of the virus that is not part of that year's vaccine. One may get infected with a completely different virus or even bacteria causing similar symptoms, but not the flu. The symptoms can be because of seasonal allergies, which started much earlier this year because of warm weather. Hallmark of typical flu symptoms is the early and sudden onset of high fever, muscle aches, and exhaustion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared we have a flu epidemic this year meaning at least 7.2 percent of the people infected with the flu die because of its complications. That should say something about the need for prevention and protection.
Vaccination is the most beneficial, simple and practical preventive measure against pathogens causing disease. Small‑pox is eradicated from the globe and polio is almost eradicated because of vaccination programs. Like any other medicine, vaccines can have side effects. The benefits are estimated to far outweigh the potential risks.
Vaccination is now proven to prevent cancers caused by infections like liver cancer from hepatitis and cervical cancer from human papilloma virus. Vaccination against some types of cancer are being pursued. Vaccination is being tried to prevent diseases caused by intrinsic inflammation like atherosclerosis that causes heart attacks and vaccines also are being developed for noninfectious conditions like high blood pressure, aortic aneurysm, Alzheimer's, and type I diabetes.
It is high time to get off the anti-vaccine band-wagon, especially among health care providers who took the pledge "first, do no harm."
The purpose of vaccination is not only to protect yourself, but to protect others from you.
Dr. Rao Musunuru is a cardiologist in Bayonet Point.