At a packed kick-off event today for the state's annual flu vaccination campaign, Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), urged all Rhode Islanders to keep themselves and their family members safe this year by being vaccinated against the flu.
"A flu shot is the single most effective way for every Rhode Islander to protect against the flu. Getting a flu shot this year will help you stay at work, stay in school, and stay at the top of your game!" said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "Part of building healthy communities and a thriving Rhode Island is ensuring that everyone has access to immunizations and other important preventive care. Even if you don't have health insurance or can't afford a flu shot, there are clinics in Rhode Island where you can get vaccinated for free."
Everyone older than six months of age should get vaccinated against the flu every year. Vaccination is important every year because flu viruses change. By being vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself; you are also protecting your family members, friends, co-workers, and everyone else in your life by helping to prevent the spread of the flu.
The flu is a serious virus that keeps many people in bed for at least a week. Symptoms of the flu can include body aches, a headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. Last year, the flu sent 512 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in seven deaths. Approximately 56% of the state was vaccinated last year. This was second only to South Dakota, where 57% of residents were vaccinated.
In addition to Dr. Alexander-Scott, other speakers at the State House event included Women & Infants Health Care Alliance Chairman and Women's Care President and CEO Pablo Rodriguez, M.D.; and Rhode Islander Cathy Sousa. Cathy Sousa lost her daughter to H1N1 influenza in 2009.
"My husband Lou and I want to encourage everyone to get a flu shot," Sousa said. "We lost our precious 12-year-old daughter, Victoria, to the H1N1 flu virus in 2009. She was a perfectly healthy, athletic girl with absolutely no health issues. We don't want what happened to our family to happen to other families when there is a very simple solution to help prevent this. Please get vaccinated. There is no down side."
Although doctors recommend flu shots for everyone older than six months of age, flu shots are especially important for the elderly, young children, healthcare workers, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions. Examples of chronic medical conditions include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
Only injectable flu vaccine will be available this flu season. There have been indications in years past that the nasal spray, or "Flumist," was not as effective as injectable flu vaccine. Until studies on the effectiveness of nasal spray vaccine are complete, nasal spray vaccine will not be available.
Rhode Islanders can be vaccinated against the flu by their doctors, at pharmacies, at school clinics, and at community clinics. Most evening school clinics are open to the entire community. The list of community clinics is available online at www.health.ri.gov/flu
To coincide with today's media event, RIDOH has also kicked off a statewide communications campaign in English and Spanish encouraging all Rhode Islanders older than six months of age to be vaccinated against the flu. The campaign is running on Facebook, RIPTA buses, and radio stations.
For more information about the flu and flu clinics, including clinics where people can be vaccinated if they don't have insurance or cannot afford a shot, call 401-222-5960 / RI Relay 711.