The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) in 2005 as a national awareness week focused on highlighting the importance of influenza vaccination. In this blog post, we sat down with local “flu fighter,” Brendan Bedard, MPH, Director of Community Health Services and Deputy Public Health Director at Genesee and Orleans County Health Department, to discuss how his health department approaches flu prevention.
Tell us a little bit about Genesee and Orleans County.
Genesee and Orleans are rural counties located between the cities of Rochester and Buffalo in Western New York. Genesee has a total population of 58,900 and Orleans has a total population of 41,500.
In your role, how do you prepare for flu season each year?
Each year, we get together to evaluate our efforts in vaccinating from the previous flu season by looking at the total number of individuals that we vaccinated from our community outreach and department clinics. We evaluate our community outreach to see what worked and what areas we need to improve on to maximize vaccination coverage for our population. This yearly meeting helps us plan how much vaccine to order and what community sites we plan on providing vaccine at during the upcoming flu season.
What is the most difficult part of flu prevention in your rural county?
I think the most difficult part for flu prevention, in general, is ramping up education each year on the important need for vaccination, especially since the flu vaccine is so variable on its effectiveness from year to year. It’s challenging at times to convince people who received the flu vaccine – but still ended up getting sick from the flu – that it’s still important to receive the vaccine.
How have you used partnerships to increase the number of vaccinations provided in your community?
We have partnered with Rite Aid Pharmacy to provide flu vaccine at community clinics. Rite Aid provides vaccine to insured adults, while the health department provides vaccine to children and the uninsured. We work with our local school districts in high-need areas to provide these services. We also partner with our local county jails to provide flu vaccine to the inmates. We work with our local federally-qualified health center (FQHC) to provide onsite flu vaccinations to migrant laborers at their labor camps. We have also started to work with our local alcohol and substance abuse residential treatment program to provide vaccination services to their residential clients.
Why do you think people underestimate the seriousness of flu illness?
I believe they underestimate the seriousness of the flu because the majority of the population that becomes ill from the virus typically recovers in less than two weeks. I think most people don’t realize about the complications from the flu such as pneumonia or the worsening of chronic medical conditions that develop into more serious illnesses.
Why is it important to get the flu shot every year?
To prevent illness for yourself and to help prevent the transmission of the virus from infecting immunocompromised and people unable to be vaccinated. It’s providing herd immunity to the most vulnerable population.
What would you say to those who are hesitant about getting the flu shot?
Get immunized for the most vulnerable people in your life, who would be at much higher risk for severe complications from the flu. Prevent the transmission of the virus to the one’s you love.