Jill Promoli’s Twitter profile describes her as “Mom, wife, photographer, traveler, knitter, and suddenly a flu shot advocate.”
That last descriptor, “suddenly a flu shot advocate,” comes after the sudden loss of her two-year-old son, Jude, to influenza B two years ago. Since then, she has launched a website, a social media campaign and speaking tour that aims to debunk flu shot myths, teach flu etiquette and persuade everyone to get the annual flu shot. And she is persuasive. By sharing her family’s tragedy, she reminds us that flu can be deadly for even otherwise healthy people.
On May 6, 2016, Jill put Jude down for a nap after lunch. Jude had woken up that morning with a low-grade fever, which Jill treated with Tylenol, fluids and cuddles. His older sister had been sick earlier in the week and had recovered, and his twin brother had vomited the day before. Jude never woke up from his nap. In a flash, Jill’s family was forever changed. The happy, vibrant boy, with red hair and big, brown eyes, the child who loved Superman, The Simpsons and singing, was gone.
Jill had her kids vaccinated against the flu. She kept her kids home when they were sick. She did everything right. But someone in their orbit did not. Someone was not vaccinated. Someone did not keep their child home from school when they were sick. As Jill has said, “Jude didn’t die because he wasn’t vaccinated. He died because the overall vaccination rate is low, and as a society we have a very casual attitude towards the flu.”
The statistics are disheartening
The statistics are disheartening. In Canada, where the flu vaccine is free and widely available through pharmacies, doctors offices and clinics, only 34% of adults and 22% of children were vaccinated in the 2015/16 flu season (Government of Canada). Even those in high-risk categories are grossly under-vaccinated. For example, only 31% of children aged six months to four years with a chronic medical condition were vaccinated, which is well below the national coverage goal of 80% for this group (Government of Canada).
The experts agree that getting the annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against the flu, even as they acknowledge that the protection is not absolute. Recent studies have shown that getting the flu shot reduces the risk of flu illness by 40-60% on average (CDC). How well the flu vaccine works each year varies based on the match between the flu viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against and the actual flu viruses spreading in the community. Nevertheless, a recent CDC study showed that getting the flu shot reduced a child’s chance of dying from the flu by 51% in children with an underlying health condition and by 65% in healthy children (CDC, 2017).
Vaccinations work best when more community members are vaccinated, the concept known as herd immunity
Vaccinations work best when more community members are vaccinated, the concept known as herd immunity. Not everyone can get the flu shot, including infants less than six months old and people who are allergic to the ingredients in the flu shot. In order to protect these groups, those who can get vaccinated play a role in protecting them. The more members of the ‘herd’ that are vaccinated, the less likely it is that the virus will spread in the community, and the more protected those most vulnerable to complications will be.
Public health departments, the government, pharmacies and advocacy groups work diligently every year to try and convince people to get their flu shot. Jill Promoli’s approach to this advocacy is effective, because it’s personal. Among the positive messages on Twitter showing her daughter getting the flu shot, reminding people to stay home when sick, and sharing her Flu Shot Locator, you will also find this exchange:
And just like that, you get it, and it cuts like a knife.
October 29 to November 2 is Flu Prevention Week. Get your flu shot and encourage your family, friends and colleagues to do the same. Do it for your neighbour’s newborn. Do it for your grandma. Do it for your brother’s co-worker’s sister’s friend who has cancer. Do it even though you don’t have time (you do). Do it even though you don’t like needles (who does?) Do it even though the flu shot isn’t perfect. Do it for Jude, for everyone.
1. CDC Newsroom. (2017, April 3). CDC Study Finds Flu Vaccine Saves Children’s Lives.
Retrieved October 26, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0403-flu-vaccine.html
2. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2017, April 06). Influenza vaccine uptake: Results from the 2015/16 national influenza immunization coverage survey in Canada. Retrieved October 26, 2018, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/vaccine-uptake-results-2015-16-national-influenza-immunization-coverage-survey.html
3. Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?. (2018, October 12). Retrieved October 26, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm