A touch of the flu is par for the course during the winter, but seasonal influenza and its causes are not always well-understood by the general public. While varying sets of symptoms are often lumped under this one umbrella term, the flu can interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities for up to two weeks and sometimes develops into a condition more complicated than a short-term illness1.
Many individuals tend to ignore the call to receive a flu vaccination each year without truly grasping just how dangerous this illness can be. It is essential that people understand the importance of taking this small step toward safeguarding their health. Given their proximity to the community, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to step into this role.
A Record-Breaking Season
Typically, the flu season starts in October and continues to late April or early May, giving people sufficient time to plan ahead and pay attention to local flu vaccination events2. But despite the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to educate people on the benefits of the vaccine, many choose not to get vaccinated.
The effects of this hit particularly hard during the 2017-2018 flu season, when new records were set in downright scary ways. The season spanned 19 weeks — one of the longest on record — and the United States saw more flu-related deaths than ever before in over 30 years3. Of the approximately 80,000 people who died from the flu that season, 180 were children, and thousands more were hospitalized due to their symptoms.
The Benefit of Flu Vaccinations
While some of the symptoms of seasonal influenza may not seem like much to worry about, a bigger cause for concern is the potential for the illness to spread to those at a high risk of catching it. Healthcare industry workers, for instance, are often part of the highest risk group for both contracting and transmitting the influenza virus. Vaccine interventions have been used to help this demographic stay healthy during the flu season with amazing rates of success4.
To help make the case for the vaccination to patients, pharmacists can draw on some of the following benefits outlined by the CDC5:
- Although the flu vaccine won’t guarantee an escape from all symptoms of the illness, it does reduce the risk of the flu by 40% to 60%. During the 2016-2017 flu season alone, the vaccine prevented over 5 million cases of illness and nearly 85,000 hospitalizations due to flu complications.
- At-risk individuals, including children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems will naturally benefit from receiving the vaccination themselves, and the more vaccinated people they come into contact with, the less likely it is they will become sick.
- Even if patients still become ill after receiving the flu vaccination, the CDC has documented that the severity of symptoms is greatly reduced along with the duration of the illness.
Fighting the Flu
Spreading the word to about flu vaccinations to the community can be a bit more complicated than simply setting up a sandwich board outside. Tools such as Amplicare Connect and Amplicare Restore are designed to help meet this challenge by making it easy to keep track of patient data and outreach. Connect, for instance, provides the ability to set up customized and automated phone and text campaigns, which pharmacists can use to educate and update patients about the influenza vaccine. For its part, Restore includes a report that identifies patients who are yet to receive a vaccination, making it easy for pharmacists to target these patients proactively. These tools also help free up time to offer more comprehensive in-person care.
Whether or not an individual is at a high for flu complications, getting the vaccination is a key part of staying healthy during the flu season. Armed with the right tools and information, pharmacists play an integral role in ensuring that people understand this and are well-equipped to survive the season.