By Julie Graham
It’s flu season, again. Influenza, in its many forms, is as predictable as death and taxes. Flu is pandemic. Flu is unique among common illness in that it happens every year, around the world, affecting millions, and commanding resources. Many of us are guilty of labeling every cough, sniffle, tummy upset and body ache, from November to April, as “ the flu.” Often dismissed as an inconvenience, we weigh the benefits of getting the flu shot, to how well it suits our lifestyle. With an overwhelming degree of empirical evidence to support its benefit, and an underwhelming availability of data to the contrary, vaccination against the flu remains a debate of feverish proportions.
Who is behind the tactics of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which propagate to keep the citizenry from getting the flu shot? I don’t claim to know, however, it is as if there is a sort of witch hunt in our society to associate vaccinations with a spectrum of deficits within the neuro-cognitive sphere. As a health scientist, it is hard to come up with any relationship between the two, and harder still, to find the evidence.
This leads us to making the business case for the flu shot. What is the problem analysis? What is the environmental analysis? What is the cost vs. benefit? What about feasibility? What are the assumptions and risks? What about project execution and evaluation? Good news! The work has been done. The United Nations has been monitoring and analysing the incidence and prevalence of flu for, literally, generations, and not only does the evidence support vaccination, but the methodology has been repeated over time, and is so efficient, that the United Nations (which has a stake in both the World Health Organization and the World Bank), supports and endorses programs for global vaccination.
The healthcare industry is the second largest contributor of industrial waste. The flu season causes surges in healthcare expenditure and utilization of non-renewable resources. Hospitalization and care of the sickest of the flu patients incurs sometimes non-recuperable costs related to nursing and medical care, drugs, specialized equipment, as well as lost labor and utilization of benefits for those affected.
The energy usage for treatment translates into environmental cost, as most modern hospitals have not yet converted to renewable energy sources. Additionally, patients with respiratory compromise from the flu receive necessary, empirical coverage of broad spectrum antibiotics. These antibiotics end up down road in the waste stream, contributing to water contamination and drug resistance.
Within the community, there are concerns too. The aforementioned sneezes, sniffles, coughs and aches cause millions of us to seek out treatment at local clinics and doctors offices every year. Most of us understand that antibiotics are useless to treat the viral etiology of influenza, however, antibiotics continue to be prescribed at staggering rates for these symptoms, further contributing to the potential for water contamination and antibiotic resistance.
The business case is clear. The flu isn’t going away. However, the resources required to manage the illness are diminishing. Vaccines are inexpensive, approximately $8-16 dollars a shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They are abundantly available and empirically supported to be safe as the evidence has shown. The return on this investment is an immeasurable benefit to life and livelihood, environmental protection and resource efficiency.
Julie Graham is a guest author and Registered Nurse from Southern California. A former student of Policy and Sustainability at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, she is now pursuing her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of San Diego.