Extendicare Hamilton

Immunizing The “Herd” Protects The Vulnerable

At this time of the year, Extendicare recommends that all staff and residents get the “flu vaccine”. It is recommended so that we safeguard our residents and staff. And it is at this time of the year that I hear some of the strangest stories about the vaccine! Many have told me that they got the flu from the vaccine; that they never ever had had the flu so why get immunized; the influenza is not a serious disease ….so why get immunized ! All these are myths!

The influenza vaccine is not a live vaccine; hence you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. You probably never got the flu because everyone around you is immunized! Immunizing the “herd” protects the vulnerable. The influenza virus causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths every year. It is a very serious disease!!

This is my first attempt at writing a blog and so I pondered for days and searched for my muse on what should I write about that would give information in an informal way and get people to want to read it and take action and get that flu shot! As public health inspector since 1976, I have many stories: some very funny, others rather frightening and some truly sad stories of events I have witnessed or been part of the investigation.

As a graduate from Ryerson so many years ago, I was trained to serve and protect the public from anything “that is or may become a physical, social or mental health hazard to the public” . Now that was a tall order for a new grad! My first assignment included a residential and commercial area in Ottawa and I was responsible for all food inspections, swimming pools, schools, pet shops, hair dressers, funeral homes, housing complaints, garbage complaints, rodent infestations ….and on and on. I was responsible for every aspect of the community where there was a potential for an infectious disease or potential public health harm to the community.

My first summer in Ottawa as a health inspector has one outstanding event that remains with me. Health units monitor beach areas all summer, taking water samples on a regular basis. This was part of my job that summer and I had several beaches along the Ottawa River. One Monday morning I was called into the Medical Officer of Health’s Office and the Doctor asked me if I had a polio vaccine! It had been compulsory in elementary school back in the day so it had been more than 15 years since I had been immunized! Why? I asked a little surprised as I had not studied or heard of any polio cases for many years. Through water sampling, the polio virus was found in the Ottawa River that summer. I had been immunized so I was safe! There were no positive cases reported that summer most likely because of the vaccination program initiated by Public Health Canada. The polio vaccine was discovered in 1952, and by 1991 was eradicated in the Western Hemisphere.

With that experience, I had a new respect for my profession. I realized that Public Health responds to the protection of communities, scientific innovation, sustained political will, and financial commitment to control the spread and manage the effects of communicable diseases and in some cases, has been successful in the complete elimination of a disease.!

And over the many years in my profession, I have seen more vaccines save so many lives. We now have measles, mumps, rubella, Hep B, and Influenza A and B. to name a few. This is why I urge all of you to take the flu shot. By doing it you may be saving a life – even if not your own, that of a vulnerable member of our community – a senior, a person with an existing condition or even a little baby.

So, as I continue to be part of the public health profession with Extendicare I ask you to please think of those around you, your family and friends, your coworkers and our residents and be part of the global public health plan to help control the spread and manage the effects of Influenza.

It is the right thing to do!

By Lyn Fabricius, National Director - Infection Prevention & Control, Extendicare