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Summer 2021 - Vaccines

Influenza: A Physician’s Perspective

ANDREW C. EISENBERG, MD, is a board-certified family physician with years of emergency department experience. He currently serves as the liaison from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine. His background also includes a position as past chair of the Council on Quality and Practice for AAFP, and he served for five years on the American Medical Association’s steering committee commission to end healthcare disparities. Dr. Eisenberg has been a medical advisor for Families Fighting Flu since October 2007. 

BSTQ: What drives you to promote influenza (flu) awareness and prevention?

Dr. Eisenberg: As a family physician, I have spent my career working to prevent illness and disability and keep people and their families and communities well. I work toward a future where no one needs to be hospitalized due to the flu or other vaccine-preventable illnesses. 

BSTQ: What tactics are most effective when it comes to promoting flu vaccine compliance?

Dr. Eisenberg: I think we are doing everything we can at Families Fighting Flu to get the word out using stories and anecdotes. This approach has a far greater effect than statistics. People who have become very ill from influenza or have lost loved ones due to flu complications are very passionate about what’s happened to them and eager to share their stores.  

BSTQ: How do you address flu vaccine questions with your patients?

Dr. Eisenberg: Trying to teach people how to take better care of themselves is a big emphasis for me, and getting an annual vaccine is part of that. I like when people ask questions because it means they are open, and as a physician, I can hope to get one point across: The flu is an infectious disease, and immunizations are your best line of defense.

BSTQ: What are the most dangerous misperceptions about flu?

Dr. Eisenberg: People often assume the flu is only a mild respiratory illness, but this just isn’t true. Having influenza can worsen diabetes, stress the heart, leading to heart failure and heart attacks, increase the risk of stroke and overwhelm the immune system, leading to many major health calamities.

BSTQ: How do you respond to patients who say they “got the flu from the vaccine”?

Dr. Eisenberg: The advantage of that question is it gives you an opening to educate. The fact is you can’t get an influenza infection from the influenza vaccine. If you develop a reaction to a vaccine does not mean you got an infection from the vaccine. The reaction is just a sign the vaccine is working and your body is actively developing antibodies.

BSTQ: Tell us about your recent efforts to educate the public about influenza.

Dr. Eisenberg: I recently presented a webinar with my fellow Families Fighting Flu medical advisor Jeb Teichman, MD, titled “Influenza: Acting Beyond Treatment to Protect Everyone.” In the webinar, we highlight the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Take 3 approach to fighting the flu: #1 — Get vaccinated annually; #2 — Stop the spread; and #3 — Take antiviral medications if prescribed.

BSTQ: Is there an optimal time of year to receive a flu vaccine?

Dr. Eisenberg: It’s best to receive your annual flu vaccine by the end of October, but vaccination even earlier or later in the season is just as beneficial, especially if it’s before flu starts circulating in your community. So if the vaccine is available in August, I suggest being proactive and getting it then. 

BSTQ: Any closing thoughts on flu prevention?

Dr. Eisenberg: I’m old enough to remember when people contracted polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Infectious diseases were the No. 1 killers of people up until just the last century when brilliant scientists and technology helped develop immunization techniques. More lives were saved and illnesses prevented by vaccinations than by any other health intervention besides clean water. Many people simply don’t realize what a huge, positive impact vaccines have had on public health, so education is definitely key. We have tools to prevent and lessen the effects of the flu, and vaccines are by far the greatest tool in our prevention toolbox. In closing, I would say let’s work together and do our part to prevent the flu and protect our families. Get vaccinated. Stop the spread.

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.