Iowa health officials continue to encourage everyone in Dubuque and elsewhere to get a flu shot this season, regardless of their age or medical condition. This recommendation even applies to people receiving end of life care who can definitely benefit from this preventative effort.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care has heard questions from some clients and families about who should get a flu shot or if the shot could make things worse. Sometimes they’re asking on behalf of a loved one who is receiving hospice services and doesn’t have a lot of time left.
The answer is always the same: Yes! Checking with one’s primary health provider ahead of time never hurts, but it’s more than likely that he or she will provide the same recommendation to go ahead and get the shot.
The reason for providing the seasonal vaccination to people receiving end of life care is the same as everyone else: it can significantly reduce the chance of them contracting this year’s primary flu strain. Or, if they happen to contract it anyway, it can reduce the symptoms and intensity and also decrease any potential complications, death commonly being one of them.
Being hit with full force of the flu without a proper and current shot could be devastating and possibly even fatal to someone already in weak health. The elderly and children are especially considered high risk by nature, and many municipalities or public health agencies put these age groups higher on priority lists in case any community ever runs low on the supply of vaccines.
Why end of life matters
Certainly, you might hear the occasional gripe that people who already receiving end-of-life care may not need a flu shot. After all, if someone only has a few months to live, the thinking can go that they’re not going to need something that will last until next fall so may as well save it for someone else. Plus, they’re already expecting death, so death from flu or death from another condition doesn’t matter, right?
The truth is that these types of statements are insensitive, cruel and simply incorrect.
Generally, people receiving hospice care may have been told that they have limited time left due to a deteriorating health condition. This doesn’t mean they want to do anything deliberately to reach their end sooner than they have to.
If someone is trying to make the most of their remaining days they’ll likely be trying to do things like complete manageable ‘bucket list’ items, spend quality time with loved ones, complete their final arrangements, and try and come to peace with what’s ahead. So coming down with the flu could derail or disrupt these plans.
Because of their already weak physical health, flu could knock someone down for days, maybe even weeks. This could make them unhappy as well as cause feelings of depression to emerge especially if they had plans for what to do in their last days and enjoyed being as independent as possible.
If they get the flu, they may need more care and feel worse. It could further harm an already weak immune system.
Plus many people with the flu or without a flu shot may even consider quarantining themselves. This avoids infecting anyone around them such as family members, or nurses, aides or therapists. It also keeps others with other contagious diseases away. But this isolation will likely contribute to any feelings of loneliness and unhappiness they may already be feeling.
If you’ve been resisting getting the flu shot for yourself or discouraging family members or friends from getting it, it’s likely because you have questions and don’t know who or what to believe.
That’s OK – we’ll be the first ones to acknowledge that most people want to err on the side of caution, and hearing pharmacists describe all the possible side effects make the vaccine sound scary.
The good news is there are very few side effects other than minor aching. But because side effects have been observed by a few people, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and even TV commercials are legally required to disclose all the possible side effects, no matter how rare.
There are also some great objective sites that provide as neutral of information as possible about the flu shot and why it’s important.
One useful resource is the main site for National Influenza Vaccine Week. The public initiative typically takes place at the beginning of December and encourages different private and public entities to try to offer programs and information to educate their local populations.
Though the week has already passed for 2019, there’s plenty of information available all year long, everything from posters you can put up at home, the workplace or other opportunities to spread the word. There are also fact sheets about the vaccine process and who is actually exempt – usually just infants under 6 months or new moms who are breastfeeding.