Influenza, commonly known as the flu, killed approximately 80,000 people last season alone, and the flu vaccine has demonstrated effectiveness in preventing—and reducing complications of—this common infectious illness. That’s why Partners HealthCare practices across the network strongly encourage their patients to get vaccinated. And now, a new Partners policy will help to ensure the organization leads by example.
With the new policy, Partners employees will be required to receive the protective vaccine. Our collective workforce can make a difference in decreasing the impact of the flu in the community—Partners employs approximately 74,000 individuals. Most importantly the flu vaccine is an important commitment to those we serve since many of our patients are among the most vulnerable to flu’s deadly complications. “We take care of many people who shouldn’t be exposed to the flu, from young children and the elderly to patients with weakened immune systems due to cancer treatment or autoimmune disorders,” notes Gregg Meyer, MD, MSc, a practicing primary care physician and Chief Clinical Officer for Partners.
"The truth is that everyone has family, friends and coworkers who fall into these vulnerable categories, which is why herd immunity is so important when it comes to flu."Gregg Meyer, MD, MSc
Dr. Meyer acknowledges that people can be hesitant to get the vaccine, but says it’s important to pay attention to facts. Some of the myths around the vaccine include:
Myth: The flu shot can give you the flu.
Fact: Not true, says Dr. Meyer. In fact, it’s impossible. “The flu vaccine does not contain the flu—it contains bits of protein that mimic the flu. If you feel achy or have a fever for a day or two, that’s your body mounting a response—and it’s better than getting the actual flu for a week or more.”
Myth: The vaccine doesn’t work.
Fact: Although imperfect, even last year when the vaccine didn’t align as closely with the circulating virus, it was still 40% effective. “That’s more effective than medications we use to treat many common illnesses,” notes Dr. Meyer. And even if you do get the flu, the vaccine makes complications, including death from the disease, much less likely.
Myth: It’s better to wait and see if the flu is bad this year.
Fact: It’s much better to get vaccinated early, since it takes a few weeks for the immune system to build up resistance. And if you wait, by the time you get flu symptoms, you’re already contagious. You can spread the flu for up to a day before you feel any symptoms. “At that point, locking yourself in your house won’t work—you’ve already done potential harm by spreading it to others,” says Dr. Meyer.
The Partners policy is in keeping with the patient care mission at the organization, where every employee has indirect contact with patients—even if there are degrees of separation. Dr. Meyer says he hopes the employee vaccinations will have a ripple effect in the community. “The reality is, flu is an incredibly serious illness and we have an effective means of preventing it,” he says. “If you stopped people on the street and said, ‘There’s a deadly disease out there and we have a free, effective treatment,’ how could they say no?”
Read more about Partners clinics administering flu shots and finding an Urgent Care Center near you.