Asinof: Healing the Political Divide With Flu Shots

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Not once during the 2018 election campaign season has a political reporter asked a candidate, at one of the numerous debates, “Have you gotten your flu shot yet?”

If such a question were asked of the candidates, perhaps one would respond to the political reporters: “Did you get yours?”

For all the rhetoric and charges and mudslinging during the 2018 campaign season, perhaps the greatest threat to the health and well being of Rhode Islanders – to families, small businesses, larger businesses, schoolchildren, the elderly and everyone in between – is the upcoming flu season.

Last year proved to be a bad flu season: nationally, more than 80,000 people died from flu and its complications; locally, the onslaught of flu cases was a major factor in emergency rooms being swamped.

Imagine if, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after the election, all the candidates, both winners and losers, came together to do a public service announcement to say: we disagree on many topics, but one thing we all agree on is the importance of getting your flu shot.

Just do it

There is no good excuse for not getting a flu shot. There are many ways to get your flu shot: at your local pharmacy, at a big box store while shopping, at your primary care provider, at a clinic.

Nurses and Richard Asinof agree–get your flu shots!

In most cases, the flu shot will be given free of charge or co-pay, if you have some kind of insurance coverage.

At many places, you do not need an appointment – all you need to do is show up and show the pharmacist your insurance card.

Common sense practices

There are some common sense practices to follow during flu season. When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose. Avoid shaking hands during flu season. Wash your hands with soap when you come in from outside and before you eat. [You do not need to use anti-bacterial soap, which some say may hinder rather than help your ability to stay healthy.] And, if you’re sick, don’t go to work, if you can avoid it.

Flu vaccines come in different varieties

If you are over 50 years of age, you should ask for what is known as a quadrivalent flu vaccine. If you are over 65 years of age, Medicaid will pay in full for the stronger, more expensive flu vaccine.

Most flu vaccine doses are produced through what is known as the chicken egg-based technology.

For those who may be allergic to eggs or who are vegans, there is an alternative: Flublok quadrivalent flu vaccine, the first FDA-approved recombinant DNA flu vaccine recommended for adults 18 years and older. You may need to ask for it, and you may need to educate your primary care provider, doctor or nurse, about it.

The largest flu vaccine manufacturer in the world, Sanofi Pasteur, makes both the egg-based flu vaccine, known as Fluzone, as well as the recombinant DNA vaccine, known as Flublok. Do you think there may be a potential conflict of interest where a company is competing against itself with two products in the same market? You betcha.

Virulent anti-vaxxers

There are some who fan the flames against flu vaccines in their campaigns against all vaccine efforts, which many public health officials point to as a contributing factor in why the rates of adult vaccinations for flu have fallen in recent years.

Ask yourself this: if you have aging parents or relatives, or you are caring for someone who is disabled or needs at-home care, consider what will happen if they “catch” the flu and have to go to the emergency room. The reality is that many folks die not from flu, but the secondary complications from flu.

Healing the political divide

Let’s go back to that public service announcement idea: imagine Joe Trillo, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and Gov. Gina Raimondo, standing together the day after the election, saying that for all their differences, they agree on one thing: the need to get a flu shot.

Maybe the three candidates could sponsor an all-day free clinic to dispense flu shots, say at the Providence Place Mall. Maybe the four commercial health insurers operating in the state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, United Healthcare, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, and Tufts Health Plan, would be willing to underwrite the free clinic. And a PR firm, one that made a lot of money producing TV and radio ads for the candidates, donating the costs of producing such an ad and buying the time, to get it done.

Talk about a powerful gesture to help heal the political divide in Rhode Island – one that would improve the economy in Rhode Island, improve the productivity of small and large businesses alike, and reduce health care costs.

Richard Asinof
Richard Asinof is an award-winning journalist who frequently writes about health, innovation, science, technology and community in Rhode Island. He is the founder and editor of ConvergenceRI, an online newsletter offering news and analysis at the convergence of health, science, technology and innovation in Rhode Island. He can be reached at RichardAsinof@gmail.com.
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