Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday November 14, 2019
Help yourself and the health system — get a flu shot
If you have had the experience of going to a hospital in southern Ontario recently, especially if you entered through the emergency ward, there is a good chance you experienced first-hand what it’s like when hospitals are stretched to the limit.
ERs are jammed. Corridors can be lined with beds occupied by people waiting for a bed. Harried staff do the best they can, and they nearly always do a good job, but they, too, are stretched to the limit.
You may have waited hours in the ER, you may have received hallway health care. You have or are experiencing what it’s like in one of many Ontario hospitals that are operating at more than 100 per cent capacity.
Now try to imagine what it could be like when thousands of Ontarians, stricken by the flu, flock to ERs for treatment. Try to imagine the incremental strain on staff and facilities. Imagine the impact on already overburdened ambulance and paramedic care.
This isn’t fear mongering. It’s a real threat. Australia is often seen as a canary in a coal mine for flu season. Their season arrives earlier than ours does. When it’s bad there, it is often as bad here. This season, flu hit Australia early and hard. If it happens here, the president of the Ontario Hospital Association warns: “The system is quite fragile at the moment.”
Average citizens cannot fix what’s wrong with Ontario hospitals. But what if there was something you could do to reduce — by as much as half — your chances of ending up in a jammed ER or hospital corridor?
There is, and it’s not hard. It won’t cost you any money. It’s free. All you have to do is go to a pharmacy, your doctor’s office, a public clinic or another location that administers flu shots. Simply by doing that, you will be reducing by 50 per cent the chance of catching the flu. Add in good hygiene — following proper handwashing guidelines, for example — and you can reduce your chances even more.
Given all this, and the unpleasant alternatives, you might think the majority of sensible Canadians would get vaccinated against the flu. You’d be wrong. Experts say only about one-third of Canadians get flu shots. If you’re among the two-thirds who don’t, you’re part of the problem.
Why don’t more people get flu shots? In part, it’s the fictitious scare tactics of the anti-vaxxer movement. In part, it’s that the vaccine can sometimes cause you to feel ill, although not nearly as ill as if you got the real thing. But yes, sometimes side effects like fever and chills do happen as your body begins to make antibodies to ward off the bug. Some say no because they think they can actually catch the flu from the vaccination. You can’t. The vaccine has no live flu virus component — you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Public health officials say this year’s vaccine is deemed to be about 50 per cent effective. It’s not perfect, but is better than other recent years. And more importantly, it’s the best chance you have of avoiding the flu virus. It makes no sense — absolutely none — to say no to a flu shot. It’s actually irresponsible given the critical situation in public health. Be part of the solution, not the problem. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)