During the 2017 influenza season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recorded numbers of more than 49 million confirmed cases.
Of that, nearly 1 million were hospitalized and 79,000 died from the disease.
“I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I assume that’s probably more than a lot of other things we care a whole lot about and get fired up about,” Dr. Thad Hardin, said.
Hardin, with Banister Lieblong Clinic in Conway, said that research conducted states those who get flu shots are at a decreased rate of having severe complications like dying, ending up in the ICU and other issues just by getting the vaccine.
“Studies show that if you get your flu shot you’re much less likely to miss work, much less likely to miss school, so, it’s the flu shot, or not getting the flu shot, puts a huge burden on society as a whole between missed work, missed school, hospital resources, clinic resources, the whole nine yards,” he said. “For something that is somewhat preventable, it’s a bad deal.”
Hardin said the CDC has said that last year’s flu season was the worst since the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.
In addition, he said, fewer than 40 percent of adults got the flu shot last year. Currently, 132 million doses have been distributed with another 168 million ready to be given out.
“Enough to vaccinate, almost, you know, all of the [U.S.] population,” Hardin said. “But, we’ll see how many of those get used.”
The 38-year-old doctor has been practicing medicine for 11 years.
From his side of the desk, Hardin said, there are many aspects to those recorded numbers that are upsetting.
“That’s what frustrates me the most is I see the bad outcomes,” he said. “I see children that get really, really sick and miss school or, heaven forbid, a child that passes away from the flu.”
Hardin said he sees all the bad parts of the disease and those who test positive as well as how much it affects everyone around them.
“What really frustrates me is when I see other people that are affected as collateral damage,” he said. “Where someone has the flu and they don’t stay home and they give it to everybody at work or someone has a relative that has bad lung disease or bad asthma and they don’t get their flu shots and now you’re increasing the risk of the ones around you.”
More than anything, Hardin said, the most aggravating, is the misinformation about the flu vaccines.
“The biggest being that the flu vaccines causes the flu,” he said. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Despite the 50 percent of adults who believe the flu shot causes the flu, Hardin said, since created in the 1930s, the shot does no such thing.
“The flu shot is made out of basically parts of the virus,” he said. “The part of the virus that makes you sick, they don’t use that part. Basically, they just use pieces of the virus so that your body recognizes it and can make antibodies to it. There’s no active part of the virus in the vaccine.”
Hardin said what creates that thought process is that people get the flu shot during sick season and the shot doesn’t work until 2-3 weeks after.
In that time period, he said, someone could be exposed to the virus before the vaccine kicks in, or, could be suffering from another illness and tying it to the shot itself.
Hardin said that last week he had a patient who believed some myths around the shot. He said oftentimes, when he takes the time to listen to patients and their concerns around the topic, they end up believing him, the doctor who went to medical school, rather than the friend of a friend.
“Most people when they’re presented with good, scientific evidence, are OK with taking the flu shot from a doctor that they trust,” he said.
For anyone who will listen, the doctor tries and advocate for the shot.
“It can be frustrating because most of the people that get their information in that regard, or a lot I won’t say most, a lot of them get it from non-medical sources,” Hardin said.
Decades ago, “The Lancet,” a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, linked autism with vaccinations but a few years ago, the journal retracted that information and reported that the doctor who originally developed that study, made everything up, a fact some now may be unaware of.
Hardin said the CDC looked at all the children who had died of the flu in recent years and determined that if they were healthy, they were 66 percent less likely to die from the flu if they had a shot, and those weren’t as healthy were still 50 percent less likely to die with the shot.
“That is what gets really frustrating,” he said. “If there was something else that would decrease your risk of death guy 66 percent in a child, we would be, you know, passing legislation, whatever it took to make it happen and we just, for some reason, the flu vaccine doesn’t get that kind of attention.”
Hardin said the vaccine “prevents so much harm.”
“If it was any other thing that didn’t involve a needle, if you could take a pill and prevent the flu, we’d probably have a lot less trouble,” he said. “It’s just … that’s what’s so frustrating. I see a disease that can cause so much damage and is somewhat preventable and some people just don’t listen.”
The doctor remembers back in 2009 when he was a resident during the H1N1 outbreak, women were delivering babies in the ICU hooked up to ventilators.
“That’s bad,” Hardin said. “That’s worse than being achy for a day after getting the flu vaccine. That’s the frustrating part when I see the terrible outcomes and how bad it is for society in general and some people just turn a blind eye to it.”
He said prevention methods for the virus include washing your hands with soap and water regularly and staying away from people when you are sick but the No. 1 action to be taken is getting the shot.
“I’m a firm believer in miracles but I think sometimes, God gave us the ability to help each other,” Hardin said. “I think that vaccines have been proven over and over and over again to be safe and they’ve proven over and over and over again to save lives.”
Right now, he said, there’s a measles outbreak going on in Europe due to people refusing to vaccinate against it and people are dying.
“That shouldn’t happen today,” Hardin said.
If the U.S. continues to treat the influenza shot like that, he said, our population as a whole will decrease.
“That’s part of the reason our life expectancy has gotten so much longe every year and our population grows, is because we’re better at keeping people alive than we used to be and part of that is vaccines and if we quit vaccinating then we’ll just see more deaths from the flu and more issues from preventable diseases,” Hardin said.
The main demographics that are at that higher-risk of complications include pregnant women, small children younger than six months, those with lung diseases and other chronic illnesses, older folks and those who are immunocompromised.
“I think it’s still a wise idea to get the flu shot and be prepared,” Hardin said. “I’m a big fan of prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”