Protecting the herd

Captain Sarah Villon, 4 Wing Cold Lake primary care nurse (left), and Melissa Paquin, 22 CF Health Services community health nurse (right), administered flu vaccines to 4 Wing Commander Col. P. Doyle (centre right) and 4 Wing CWO R. Nault (centre left) on Wednesday Oct. 10, 2018. Christopher King

Captain Sarah Villon, 4 Wing Cold Lake primary care nurse (left), and Melissa Paquin, 22 CF Health Services community health nurse (right), administered flu vaccines to 4 Wing Commander Col. P. Doyle (centre right) and 4 Wing CWO R. Nault (centre left) on Wednesday Oct. 10, 2018.
Christopher King

CHRISTOPHER KING

Like clockwork, the annual flu season is back, and health professionals are urging people to consider the concept of “herd immunity” as a way to prevent the spread and infection of the virus.

Captain Sarah Villon, 4 Wing Cold Lake primary care nurse, said the vaccination is voluntary for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, but it is highly recommended.

“We work in small spaces, deploy together, live in tents, so it’s one of those things we can do to help our health,” Capt. Villon said. “Even for people that say they’re healthy and never get the flu, that’s not the case for everyone. Herd immunity is so important, it’s so helpful for people that are not as healthy.”

Healthy people that either don’t get infected, or have mild and tolerable symptoms can still pass the influenza virus on to other that have weaker immune systems. By vaccinating healthy people, the “herd” is less likely to get the virus and spread it to others.

Capt. Villon said people who are already sick or on other medication that may prevent them from receiving the vaccine, or who are immunocompromised are vulnerable. People with HIV or cancer patients undergoing certain treatments, the elderly as well as infants are some examples.

Another factor that contributes to the spread is how long people are infectious, while remaining asymptomatic. That is, being infected, but not showing any signs.

Melissa Paquin, 22 CF Health Services community health nurse, said people can carry the flu for one day and infect others without showing any signs of infection themselves.

“It’s not only us that we need to think about,” Paquin said. “Why we want to immunize for the flu is to protect people in your community that can’t protect themselves. People that have immunocompromised health conditions, small children who can’t be immunized, as well as the elderly, those are the three that we want to protect.”

On the receiving end, consumers are often skeptical of the efficacy of the vaccination. Capt. Villon and Ms. Paquin both agreed that the use of patterns and trends help to determine what strains of the virus will strike, but ultimately it is a best educated guess.

“It’s our best guess at what’s coming and to try and be prepared for it,” Capt. Villon said. “Sometimes it’s not accurate, but anything greater than zero is a better chance.”

For more information on how to get vaccinated as an individual or a unit, check the intranet splash page or email for the 2018 admin order. Go online: canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza.html