Health officials are trying a slightly different approach this year to convince Arizonans to get inoculated against the flu: a mixture of guilt and civic pride.
State Health Director Will Humble said Thursday that most people realize the annual shot or nasal spray will help them avoid the latest strain of the virus.
“But one of the most important things is to really get vaccinated for your community,” he said. “It’s part of your social contract that you have with everybody else, with your family, your community and your state, to get vaccinated.”
The idea is to create a “herd effect.”
Bob England, the Maricopa County health chief, said the flu becomes epidemic when it spreads easily from person to person. But he said that the more people who are immunized, the harder it is for that to take place.
“There’s good mathematical modeling which says if we can only get 80 percent of school-age kids vaccinated, that would be enough to cut out those school outbreaks that drives our epidemic of flu every year,” England explained. “If we can get 80 percent of school-age kids vaccinated, it would take more than 90 percent of the flu away from the rest of us.”
Humble acknowledged that some people may figure that, what with the other 80 percent getting vaccinated, there’s no reason for them to put their children or grandchildren through the pain or, at least, the inconvenience. But he said that ignores the “personal responsibility to contribute to the community’s best interest.”
“It’s really not about you,” he said.
“It’s about doing the simple things that are really part of your social contract with your community,” Humble continued. “It’s basically a selfish thing to not get vaccinated.”
And England said there’s a selfish reason that people should get the shot.
“You don’t want your granddaughter wondering if she’s the one who gave you the flu that killed you,” he said.
Anyway, Humble said, getting inoculated is very simple.
He pointed out that a year-old law now allows most pharmacists to administer the vaccine. That eliminates the need to make an appointment with a doctor.
Humble also said that most insurance plans cover the cost.
England said that it might be worth having a discussion of whether flu shots should be mandated for school children, like the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. But Humble said there are logistical problems with that because the flu requires annual inoculations.
“With MMR and some of the other school-required vaccines it’s about getting vaccinated once,” he explained. By contrast, Humble said, keeping track of the shots for a million school children each year would create logistical problems.
One bit of good news is that the strains of flu now making a showing in the southern hemisphere — usually a precursor to what will show up here this winter — are precisely the strains that are included in this year’s inoculation cocktail.
“So, if things stay as they are, the flu vaccine is really a perfect match for what we expect to be circulating this fall and winter,” he said. And Humble said there appears to be more than enough supply.
That differs from when the H1N1 strain showed up two years ago and there were not vaccines already prepared for that.
“Now that could change,” Humble warned, with the chance there will be “some kind of strain that comes out of left field.”
“The flu is not predictable every year,” England echoed.
“It’s a tricky virus,” he continued. “And everybody’s had common experience with the flu and knows that some years it’s much worse than other years.”