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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