United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Seasonal Combat: The Fight against the Flu
People at booths in auditorium
At a flu clinic at the Butler VA Medical Center.

Along with the falling leaves and snow, fall and winter are the seasons for flu vaccination. Protection against the flu is a seasonal routine that will help you have a happy and healthy holiday.

Each year in the U.S., flu causes more than 225,000 hospitalizations and more than 35,000 deaths. Even though most of these serious cases are among people age 65 and older, anyone can get the flu, be miserable for several days, and spread it to others.

A Safe Vaccine

“I think it is incumbent upon us as health care providers to make sure we’re getting the message out,” said Dr. Kristin Nichol, a researcher at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

Nichol said she’s found that a doctor can make a huge difference in convincing patients to get a flu vaccine. Patients will respond to a doctor giving an enthusiastic recommendation to get a vaccination, and addressing concerns about the safety or the necessity of the vaccine.

“It’s a bad disease, but a good vaccine,” said Nichol. “Vaccination is safe and effective and provides substantial benefits in all populations studied.”

While some may have fears about getting a shot, an increasing variety in delivery methods can help, such as receiving a nasal spray.

While it is not recommended that children under 6 months get vaccinated, a developing fetus also can receive substantial protection while in the womb and for months after birth. Nichol noted that recent studies have shown a pregnant mother transfers some of the antibodies of her vaccination to her unborn child.

Getting the Word Out

Like many VA facilities across the country, Butler, Pa. VA Medical Center staff has put efficient vaccine delivery into practice. Already this year the Medical Center’s flu clinics offered have had huge turnouts of 300 or more, with almost 400 attending one of the season’s first clinics.

In August, staff began planning the schedule and location of the clinics, along with methods of reaching the most vulnerable populations. The planning team was made up of staff from different sections of the Medical Center, including members of the medical and public affairs staff. For example because spinal cord injury patients are a vulnerable population, the spinal cord coordinator worked closely with the team to ensure patients were aware of the need for flu shots.

For the first time this year, Butler VA Medical Center staff members created a podcast for their flu clinic and published it on their website. This was in addition to other promotion using fliers, on-hold telephone messages, and even the computer screen savers.

Sharon Boyle, a registered nurse at the Butler VA says that it’s not only an aggressive and targeted advertising campaign that has increased the numbers.

“We’re also combining with health fairs, so it’s not just coming for a flu shot, there’s a lot more offered, such as signing up for MyHealtheVet.”

In response to the recent emergence of the 2009 “Pandemic” H1N1 flu, this year’s vaccination also includes protection against the strain of the H1N1 virus.

While the flu clinics are scheduled weeks in advance, Boyle assures that VA responds to demand. If needed, the Butler VA Medical Center can increase the number of clinics.

Ultimately, VA wants to ensure that the tools to fight the flu are within reach for every enrolled Veteran and all VA health care personnel.

Related link:
  More flu information