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Educating and empowering people about the flu shot

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MURRAY — A leading expert in immunizations in Utah says we need to start thinking about the flu shot in terms of education and empowerment, rather than scare tactics.

Dr. William Cosgrove, a Murray pediatrician, has served as a spokesperson for immunizations for the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1985. He’s also on the steering committee for Utah’s immunization registry, a member of the Greater Salt Lake Immunization Coalition, and sits on the scientific vaccine advisory committee that advises the Department of Health on what vaccines should be required for school.

The flu shot teaches your body what to do

Dr. Cosgrove says people fear the flu shot is some kind of chemical nurses inject into them to stay in their body to fight germs, but that’s not how it works.

“These are not antibiotics. They don’t stay in your body. They aren’t policemen or [an] army,” he explains. “What they are is simply a way to educate your immune system about what the enemy looks like. They are the FBI’s wanted poster.”

In other words, Dr. Cosgrove says the flu shot tells your body how to recognize this year’s most dominant flu strain. It also protects other people around you, he says, because you are contagious before you start to feel any symptoms of influenza.

Cosgrove: scare tactics don’t work

Dr. Cosgrove worries that scare tactics aren’t working – arguing that instead, the health industry needs to think about marketing the flu shot differently. He wants to see doctors and nurses start to empower people with correct information, rather than scaring them, which he believes may leave them too afraid to act.

“[Flu shots] lessen the death rate. They lessen the complication rate. They lessen how much the diseases spread in our community,” he says. “They are a tool to make this disaster less of a disaster.”

Empowering people to take charge of their own health

Still, experts say only about half the population gets the flu vaccine every year, even though it can strike anyone, from vulnerable populations to those who are otherwise healthy.

“It is staggering. We lose a hurricane’s worth [of people] every five days” to the flu, Dr. Cosgrove says. “And it doesn’t seem to be a crisis to people because they are all spread out among the population.”

“Last year, 80,000 of us died because not enough of us cared to make a difference in advance,” he says. “This year, we all have the power to make a difference.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends yearly flu shots for anyone over the age of six months.