The start of school and cooler temperatures means the annual push to encourage people to get the flu vaccine. For the family medicine locum, there may be little urgency to make sure patients are vaccinated given that the locum doctor may never see most of those patients again. Still, the flu vaccine is something that needs to be talked about in the office.
There remains quite a bit of speculation about the effectiveness and necessity of the flu vaccine. Furthermore, a single locum doctor filling in at a family medicine practice is not likely to sway minds that are already made up. But three very good talking points may help those who are on the fence decide whether the flu vaccine is right for them or not. Those talking points are discussed below.
Point #1: The Flu Vaccine Cannot Give You the Flu
While some vaccines are created using living forms of the microbes in question, the flu vaccine is not one of them. All specimens of the virus used to make the vaccine are killed prior to manufacture. Therefore, it is not possible for the vaccine to actually give a patient the flu.
Many people are confused by this because no vaccine provides full immunity overnight. It takes time for the body to respond to the vaccine – up to two weeks for many people. An individual already exposed to the flu virus could come down with the illness a few days after having received the vaccine simply because immunity has not yet been established.
Point #2: Making the Time Is Not That Difficult
The busyness of the average family medicine office does give credence to the claim that people just don’t have time to schedule a flu vaccination. But the argument only goes so far. As any locum tenens physician knows, there are a lot more opportunities to get the vaccine than people are aware of. Getting vaccinated is not necessarily a matter of having to take time away from work or other activities to visit the family doctor.
In most major cities, there are public clinics that take walk-ins during regular business hours. Numerous neighborhood pharmacies and retail-based clinics also offer flu vaccines. Even hospitals have been known to provide vaccinations to local residents. The point is that getting the flu vaccine does not require missing three hours of work and sitting in the family doctor’s office among plenty of sick people. Getting vaccinated could mean something as simple as stopping on the way home from work one day.
Point #3: The Flu Really Can Be Dangerous
One of the big misconceptions about the flu is that it is a largely harmless illness people don’t need to worry about. This is partly due to a misunderstanding of what the flu is. The flu is a very specific illness that can have very severe symptoms leading to hospitalization. What most people consider the flu really is not so. Rather, it is just a severe cold. The genuine flu can be a lot more dangerous.
This is not to say that everyone who gets the flu is at risk of life-threatening consequences. But in the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, the flu is nothing to mess around with.
Locum tenens physicians filling in at family practices may never see most of the patients again. Still, it’s important to have the flu vaccine discussion at this time of year. There are people the doctor will see who could benefit from the vaccine, and they deserve all of the information they can get on it.