As a public health professional, I understand the importance of vaccines. After all, group vaccinations are a public health, not medical, decision. There were initiated at the turn of the 20th century to reduce and eradicate viruses that had the potential to harm or kill infants and toddlers; this means that, although your personal immune system might have handled the mumps just fine, as my mother recounted to me, vaccinating an entire population would prevent the little boy around the corner from going sterile, or have severe complications if he were to contract the illness. Diseases like polio, (now in isolated cases), and small pox (now existing only in vials in the U.S. CDC and Russia) enjoyed such eradication.
Vaccines for adults is a bit different. Vaccines in and of themselves don’t last forever; that’s why we have boosters, tetanus every ten years for life, and measles, mumps, polio, rubella, meningitis up until age 20, to keep immunity during the periods when we are most susceptible. But adults tend to transmit viruses less to one another, because we are more careful about hygiene, interact less with large groups of people, etc..
So why vaccinate adults? Well for the same reason, really, that we vaccinate children. To protect those who are more at risk. All major research states that annual flu vaccines are most effective for children under age 2, the elderly (over age 70 usually), pregnant women, diabetics and those who are immunocompromised for whatever reason. Every winter, Israel included, hospitalizations spike with patients from these groups admitted for complications of the flu virus.
Everyone else who has a healthy immune system usually develops antibodies to many viruses. In fact, there are many theories that suggest regular exposure to these viruses helps a person create antibodies to protect them against more virulent cases of the illness.
So why the flu shot?
About a decade ago, the Ministry of Health mandated hospitals and all 4 Health Services to follow 24 indicators of healthcare quality assurance, based on national consensus and international standards. Hospitals indicators are perhaps easier to measure, number of bed sores, number of medical errors… But what are quality indicators for community health?
Preventative health is a category which includes among other figures: # of mammography screenings, # of colon cancer screenings, and yep, you guessed it, the flu vaccine.
This is not to say that you might not benefit from the vaccine. There is a large body of research out there detailing number of days lost to work during flu season. However, I just wanted you to understand that the kupah must report to the government, the number of vaccines it delivers and it wants to show higher numbers.
So if you are not in the categories mentioned above, or you’re not like my friend, who is, thank goodness, healthy, but for some reason manages to spend the winter catching everyone else’s colds, just have a thought process about the benefits of the flu shot, personally, to you.