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Another Voice: Fear of the flu should outweigh fear of the flu shot

By Gale Burstein, Daniel Stapleton and Richard Vienne

The nasal spray version of the flu vaccine that many people prefer over the flu shot is not recommended for the coming flu season because it doesn’t offer much protection from the virus, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you’re among the estimated 20 percent of the population that has an extreme fear of hypodermic needles, the lack of a nasal spray option might keep you from getting your annual flu vaccination. That wouldn’t be good for you or for those around you.

The ACIP reviewed several years’ worth of data on the flu vaccine and concluded that the nasal spray had poor or relatively lower effectiveness when compared to injectable flu vaccines. Kids may be harder hit by this recommendation since the nasal spray accounts for about one-third of all flu vaccines given to children.

The flu is not to be taken lightly. Nationwide, the flu virus causes 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 24,000 deaths each year. Last year, there were about 16,000 confirmed and many more unconfirmed adult flu cases in upstate New York. If more people avoid flu vaccines this season because of needle phobia, those numbers will surely jump.

The flu virus is easily spread, and can be a serious health concern for women who are pregnant, the very young or old, and/or those who have a chronic illness or a medical condition that affects their immune system.

Whether or not you mind getting shots, this new recommendation against the nasal spray flu vaccine illustrates how health officials are using data to identify the most beneficial public health policies.

The ACIP recommends annual flu vaccines for everyone 6 months and older. Options to regular needles include an intradermal flu vaccine that is injected into the skin through a tiny, ultra-thin needle. Also available is the jet injector flu vaccine that is completely needle-free. It delivers the vaccine though a narrow, precise fluid stream that penetrates the skin in about one-tenth of a second. These options are available for patients in certain age ranges, so check with your provider to see if one of these may be appropriate for you, and for guidance as to locations where they may be available.

Don’t let a fear of needles get in the way of doing the right thing for your health and the health of those around you. This coming flu season, make sure everyone in your family gets a flu shot. (Honestly, you’ll just feel a quick pinprick!) View a Univera Healthcare infographic, “Facts About The Flu Vaccine,” at http://bit.ly/1NLsuYs.

Gale Burstein, M.D., M.P.H., is Erie County commissioner of health. Daniel Stapleton, M.B.A., is public health director of Niagara County. Richard Vienne, D.O., is Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer.

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