Skip to main content

In the future, get vaccinated earlier

By Kevin Pho, Special to CNN
January 11, 2013 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kevin Pho: Nearly every state has "intense" flu activity
  • Pho: More patients need to be protected by getting flu shots earlier in the season
  • He says one reason the flu is so prevalent is that a main strain is associated with severe illness
  • Pho: Read the headlines and learn from the current flu crisis

Editor's note: Kevin Pho, a primary care physician in Nashua, New Hampshire, blogs at MedPage Today's KevinMD.com.

(CNN) -- During the past few months, I have gently suggested to my patients that they receive the flu vaccine. Many said yes, but some declined.

Today, as I look up Google's national flu trend map, I see nearly the entire country painted in an alarming red, signifying "intense" flu activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41 states are experiencing widespread flu outbreaks. There are 26 times more flu cases this year than last. And in Boston, near my primary care practice, a public health emergency was declared this past Wednesday.

I shake my head when seeing these headlines, and I vow to be more persuasive when it comes to giving the flu vaccine. More patients need to be protected against influenza by getting flu shots earlier in the season.

Kevin Pho
Kevin Pho

Like many other clinics across the country, my office is flooded with patients suffering from coughs, runny noses, fevers and body aches, all potentially caused by the flu. Thankfully, the vast majority of adults survive. But others fare less successfully: the young, the elderly, and those with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes or cancer.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Severe flu complications, like pneumonia, can hospitalize these patients, or worse, be fatal. Consider the young. According to William Rodriguez, a pediatrician at the Food and Drug Administration, between 43 and 153 children have died in the past 10 flu seasons combined. Already, 18 children have died this season.

One reason why the flu outbreak is so prevalent this year is that the predominant strain, H3N2, hasn't been this widely circulated since 2002-03 and is associated with a more severe illness.

But another reason is the relatively low percentage of patients who received a flu shot. This year's vaccine is well matched to the circulating viruses and, while not perfect, provides good protection. Flu shots are about 60% effective. But more than half of Americans skip the vaccine. Only 46% received one last year. This year's numbers are about the same.

What you need to know about the flu
Texas teen dies from flu
Dealing with and preventing the flu

The reason many cite, "I got the flu from the flu shot!" isn't valid. There are no live viruses in the vaccine. If someone got sick after the shot, it's because of a coincidental illness caused by the scores of other non-influenza viruses that can cause similar upper respiratory symptoms.

Others say, "I've never had the shot before, and I've been fine." In some, the flu can be debilitating, leaving patients bedridden for days. In others, it can simply be a runny nose or a minor cough. But it's still the flu and can be spread to more vulnerable patients, with disastrous consequences for them.

According to Frank Esper, a viral respiratory disease expert at UH Case Medical Center in Ohio, "Every time you vaccinate yourself, you're not just protecting yourself, but you're protecting everyone you know, including individuals who are young or pregnant."

It's still not too late for a flu shot. Go get one if you haven't already. Although its protective action won't take effect for about two weeks, the flu season hasn't peaked.

I realize I have to do a better job to dispel these myths in the exam room and convince more of my patients to receive a flu shot. But patients can also help. Read the headlines and learn from the current flu crisis. Then be proactive and get a vaccine earlier in future flu seasons.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin Pho.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT