1. Health
Kristin Hayes, R.N.

Could Your Decision to Forego the Flu Shot Kill Someone Else?

By January 26, 2013

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I was reading a news article which had individual state reports of flu activity for this time of year. What struck me, besides the number of flu deaths, was the number of states that reported having to turn ambulances away because the hospitals were so overwhelmed with flu patients that they couldn't take care of anyone else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anyone of being a killer for not getting a flu shot - that's ridiculous, nor, at this juncture do I feel that it should be a determining factor for someone deciding whether or not to get a flu shot, but it is something to think about.

As the nation's opinion on vaccines in general declines, especially the public's opinion of the flu shot, this could be a significant and ethical problem. A person decides not to get vaccinated, gets sick and ends up needing hospitalization; another person, (perhaps one who got their flu shot), gets in a car accident but is refused care because the hospital is already beyond capacity, is this fair? If the problem was bad enough, hospitals may be forced to ask themselves who is most deserving of care. Should hospitals deny treatment to patients with the flu who refused the vaccine in order to accommodate others? It seems unethical to me to deny care to someone because they chose not to put a substance in their body that they believed might harm them, but on the other hand... most people who skip the flu shot do so knowing that there is a risk of severe illness and even death involved, and knowingly accept that risk. There are others, however, who don't get the shot because it isn't available to them, they can't afford it, or they are simply uneducated. How do you determine this? Is it worth delaying a patient's care to verify whether or not they've had the shot?

Perhaps, hospitals should simply prioritize which patient's they care for according to the severity of illness or injury - but that can also be difficult to determine accurately and may induce a slew of ethical problems in and of itself. For example, do you care for the 5 year old child whose illness seems less severe than the 99 year old man who was brought in by his care center. As you can see, if the flu season is severe enough, and enough American's skip their flu shot, this could be a major problem without an easy or clear cut solution.

One thing is clear, even more unforeseen problems are sure to arise if something is not done to staunch this country's division over the vaccine issue. Personally, I feel that there is a percentage of American's who will never trust any vaccine. However, if any progress is to be made, the government will have to make significant improvements in vaccine safety and spend a lot of money educating the public. While I don't feel that current vaccines are unsafe, I believe that an entirely new line of vaccines will need to be recreated in order to regain the trust of many Americans. Unfortunately, that is a reality that could be a long time coming.


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January 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm
(1) Mark says:

If we decide healthcare based on preventative measures, should we stop giving care to Obese individuals who had heart attacks? Maybe anyone with a drinking problem should be cut off from receiving dialysis treatment. Your argument is terrible and even writing such a thing is ridiculous.

January 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm
(2) Jugta says:

The implications of decisions made by adults choosing not to get the Flu shot does and will affect us all- and it’s time they stop fooling themselves. They risk not only just the health of their child(ren), aging parents or sick neighbors-but also the remaining millions of us in this country and abroad. How? By decreasing what is known as “herd immunity”- and therefore increasing the possibility of spontaneous mutations of the Flu virus- against whom the human body has no defense. (A good examples was the Swine Flu epidemic).

Their selfish, ignorant decisions are not limited to just the Flu vaccine-but against all vaccinations in general. This is exactly why diseases that were once almost eradicated, such as Pertussis and Measles- are now killing thousands in epidemics across the US.

This (most often) “yuppie” anti-vaccine affliction is frustrating not only because of the baseless irrationality that propagated it, but also for the arrogant refusal to acknowledge its potentially deadly implications- to their family and mine.

January 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm
(3) DFinlaysonMD says:

Sorry Jugta, I am not in your herd and do not stampede willy-nilly because newsies want everyone to get ineffective vaccines.
I have never gotten a flu shot and also never had the disease, thank you.
“It is easier to fool someone than to convince someone they have been fooled.” Mark Twain.

January 26, 2013 at 6:19 pm
(4) Brad says:

You have touched on the surface of a deeper issue, the hospital bed capacity crisis no one is discussing. The United States ranks 43rd globally in hospital bed capacity, behind many smaller countries we’d consider 3rd world. http://www.globalhealthfacts.org/data/topic/map.aspx?ind=78

Our concept of buying health care in the form of health insurance from insurance companies doesn’t put funds into the health care system to build new infrastructure. Those insurance companies invest in higher return properties like malls, arenas and office buildings, not hospitals. So long as that money moves to 3rd party insurances and not directly to the health care provider system, there will not be new hospital development at pace to match the demand, and these shortages will only get bigger and more frequent. Within 10 years our hospitals will not be able to provide sufficient bed space most of the time. There is no room at the inn right now with simple flu, Imagine what will it be like in 10 years with millions of sick boomers?

January 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm
(5) rose says:

To the author: Are you in need of a hobby such as forcing tulip bulbs, key word forcing, or are you just a sh*t stirrer who found a way to stir on a large scale on the web? Perhaps you are not aware that hospitals already triage according to severity of injury and medical need and outcome. Perhaps in your ivory tower, you are unaware that there are many people who cannot for reason of allergy in my case, unable to have a flu vaccine administered to them. Maybe I should just die now and let you other deserving sort take over the planet, you who have all the answers for everyone else. If you can’t see past your own nose, you don’t know much about the world.

January 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm
(6) flu-zzzy says:

It makes no sense to take a flu shot every year. Should we also come up with cold vaccines and take those every year as well. What about Norovirus and others? The flu generally takes a greater toll on those with weakened immune systems and these folks should probably get shots before any other part of the population. Hygine is another important method of reducing the spread of flu viruses and taking sick days to stay away from the general public. This would apply to more than just the flu. Everyone has seen numerous people in their lives walk out of a bathroom without washing their hands and we have probably all seen people caughing in public without covering their mouths

January 26, 2013 at 7:24 pm
(7) Blind Bob says:

If you have taken the vaccine, why does it matter so much to you that I haven’t. Shouldn’t you be protected? And, that’s just dumb to say that someone with the flu has taken a bed that some guy needs because he has had an accident. How can you POSSIBLY see that in the future. I’m not drinking that ‘herd’ koolaid either.

January 26, 2013 at 7:25 pm
(8) Denny says:

This has got to be the most rediculous column I have seen today. Does this woman just sit on the pot and try and think of something to write about ??? I could only read part of it and thought, “why

am I wasting my life’s time reading this ???” Please lady get a “real job” as a telepmarketer or something like that. Sheeesh.

January 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm
(9) Fear Mongering says:

Can you please take this article down? It does no one any good. There are multiple strains of the flu. Taking a random “flu” shot to try and stop it from flaring up? No thank you i’d rather play the odds in the lottery and tax the poor. Which only happened once in my life. We live in a country that allows choice. And men and women die DAILY to give us that option. There are many things in life that cause hospitals to fill up at different times of the year. Your logic is illogical. Is it a scenario that could play out. Yes, there could be an epidemic of many other diseases also. Diseases we haven’t even heard of. Should I go get shots for everything invented by nature and man tomorrow because i’m scared? If that rules your life, then do it. I am not run by fear mongering. Please remove this article and save someones life from fear. Fear Kills Dreams.

January 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm
(10) Just Another Lemming says:

Wow. This quite possibly could be the worst article I have ever read on the internet, and that is saying something.

Can I just say that you would probably be quite at home in Orwell’s 1984? If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an interesting piece of fiction about how people just believe everything the government tells them. You know, dystopian society, persecution of independent thinking and such. It’s really quite depressing, but an interesting read nevertheless.

Oh and by the way, stating that some people are too uneducated to get a flu shot? That’s just plain rude. Maybe you should go and get some actual facts about flu vaccinations (such as how they are just a guess in the first place…) before you write such a fundamentally ludicrous article.

Before I go, can you answer me one question? You don’t by any chance date a french model do you?

January 27, 2013 at 11:06 am
(11) Scott Stewart says:

Ms. Hays,
After reading this “article” I must say that I am embarrassed to admit that I am a nurse as well, 14 years in the ER with 7 years previous as a medic. Before you comment on these issues you should bop out of you’re fancy outpatient ENT surge-center and come down to the trenches foe a while and be a real nurse. You moronically stated that maybe we should prioritize which patients we see by severity of illness. Please find a medical dictionary and look up the word triage for me. That person seeing you when you walk into the ED is in fact sorting you into a priority to be seen. If you want to fix the over crowding problem in the ED it’s simple. Repeal the EMTALA law. That’s the law that forces us in the ER to work for free on every patient that comes in. Un like the ENT clinic that only sees patients that pay them for services. Indemnify that fine triage nurse in the ER so that we can look at you when you walk in with a non flu viral URI (look that one up as well) or your chronic back pain, we can look at you and say what we are thinking. “GO HOME YOU DO NOT HAVE AN EMERGENCY MEDICAL CONDITION.” If we were allowed to do this our volume of patients would drop by about 90% and we would be better able to care for true emergencies.

January 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm
(12) ICU_RN says:

I wonder if most people commenting even finished reading the blog. Ms. Hayes clearly says that she DOESN’T feel that not taking the flu shot kills someone else, and in fact calls that postulation as RIDICULOUS. Her point of the whole article is that there is such distrust in the current vaccine and that the nation as a whole is so misguided in their fear of taking the flu vaccine, that the government should focus on revamping the vaccine and reeducating people, because of the fact that right now across the US a precious resource is being tied up with patients that have a preventable illness. As for the ED RN, get off your high-horse, you obviously aren’t seeing the statistics nor the big picture. Bed issues are real, and you should know that if you really are an ED nurse.

The point that she clearly mentions is that we need to start from the ground up on education and making Americans feel safe with a product that saves lives. So all the anti-vaccine people will stop their campaigns that cost American lives.

January 28, 2013 at 3:23 pm
(13) Elizabeth says:

My daughter is 8 and has had the flu shot every year. she still got the flu this year. the flu is affecting people this year regardless of if they got the shot, do your research before you go accusing people of this.

January 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm
(14) ICU_RN says:

Elizabeth, I don’t believe the author, research behind the information, or any of the comments (including myself) that are pro vaccine are blaming people. Medicine is imperfect and sounds like you are doing all you can to protect your daughter. And people will still end up with the flu. The important thing to remember is that if you are vaccinated and still get the flu, you will tend to have a milder case than you would if you hadn’t received the vaccine because you have already started to build up an immunity against a form of the virus (albeit not the exact virus).

It is the population that is adamant that vaccines of all kinds (not just the flu) that hurts America as a whole and ties up beds and allows proliferation of diseases that would otherwise have been eliminated.

February 20, 2013 at 8:09 am
(15) Raphaelle says:


Pierce Morgan got the flu days after receiving the vaccine… so did my friend after her boyfriend (who NEVER had the flu in his life) got the flu days after getting the flu shot… the problem is that she is immune compromised and it retriggered her illness… another friend’s aunt died from complications of the flu after the shot… SO before we get all hysterical about whether or not it MIGHT be necessary in the future (even IMPLYING this is criminal, IMHO).. since when SHOULD we TRUST big Pharma OR the CDC (which STILL denies Morgellons is a REAL MAN MADE disease)?? Those who are not blind to history know EXACTLY why we should not just hand over our health to INSTITUTIONS that have PROVEN to not have our best interests at heart… remember the H1N1 vaccine?


When my friend asked her own doctor who asked if she wanted the shot, if HE took the shot, he said NO…

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