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Tallahassee Democrat: Rep. Pigman, Vaccine is best protection against flu

Monday, December 15, 2014

To our dismay, the winter holidays always seem to coincide with the beginning peak of flu season. Already, we are seeing a number of cases in Florida. One company has tracked prescriptions dispensed to treat the flu and discovered Florida to be among the top 10 states with the most cases.

Even cutting-edge medical advancements can’t rid us entirely of the flu; however we can limit the number of sick people by encouraging everyone to get a flu shot this season. National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec. 7-13) aims to call attention to the need to be vaccinated. Everyone over the age of 6 months, including very healthy people, needs a flu vaccine every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In years past Florida has ranked last in the number of people getting flu shots. Less than 37.5 percent of Floridians got the shot last year.

When large numbers of people are not vaccinated, everyone in the community is at greater risk of contracting the flu, which can be very serious and in some cases deadly. Few people can afford to take a week or two from work or school because of illness, but that is how long it takes to recover from flu.

If there are complications, such as pneumonia, recovery can take even longer, and you may need to be hospitalized. Preschool children, pregnant women, seniors and those with chronic conditions are at highest risk for complications, so being vaccinated is imperative for these groups and their family members.

There really is no good excuse for not being vaccinated. Policymakers and health providers have been working hard to make a vaccination for the flu as easy as possible. Most physicians and health departments now offer flu vaccines, and some groups offer free shots at walk-in clinics. You can also get a flu shot from your pharmacist. Pharmacies are open during non-traditional business hours and no appointment is needed for vaccines. This makes for convenient and easy access for many people who might not otherwise be vaccinated due to schedule conflicts or time away from work.

It is increasingly important to offer vaccines and other preventive health services in complementary settings, such as pharmacies, which are easily accessible for most people. In fact, when the Florida legislature reconvenes in 2015, I will work with my fellow lawmakers to allow pharmacists to administer any CDC-recommended vaccine.

In the meantime, we should all commit to getting our flu vaccine and encouraging family members to do the same. Let’s not allow the flu to spoil our winter holidays.

Cary Pigman, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician and represents the people of the 55th District in the Florida House of Representatives.

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