As a firefighter/paramedic, I’m embarrassed over the scene being created by health care workers (including nurses, medics, and firefighters) refusing flu vaccination. The consequences are serious: they cast public doubt over the best tactic we have to prevent spread of influenza in our communities. Vaccines have slashed death rates from twenty five diseases. Get a flu shot in the fall and you are half as likely to die during winter as people who don’t. When physicians, nurses, medics, and firefighters get flu vaccines, their patients are also less likely to die.
Flu is serious – it kills more than 36,000 Americans every year, the majority of victims over 65 years old. The H1N1 virus causes relatively mild illness in healthy adults but threatens the lives of the very young and weak. It is a robust virus that spread worldwide like wildfire and never went away. It is now a pandemic, and H1N1 shows every indication that it is here for the winter, if not longer. We have no better public health tool than vaccination to protect our children and each other.
So is there danger in the vaccine? Not at all. The danger is in unvaccinated people, and especially unvaccinated health care workers. While firefighters and paramedics are less likely than their patients to get sick with the flu, they readily carry the virus to others, infecting vulnerable patients as well as their own friends and families.
Firefighters are not just inhabitants of their communities; they are public role models. We have a moral and ethical duty to make responsible choices and act with the understanding that others are watching. Lives are on the line in your home and in the communities you serve.