Remember last year’s fears of a “twindemic”? Influenza vaccine maker Seqirus and nonprofit Families Fighting Flu (FFF) do. That’s why, even as the Omicron variant overruns the country, the organizations have partnered on a campaign designed to counter vaccine fatigue and stress the importance of annual flu shots.
While fears of a difficult flu season haven’t come to pass — yet — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have observed a steady uptick in flu activity. To combat the rising rates, the initiative encourages individuals to promise to receive a flu vaccination by January 15.
The campaign is centered on a series of patient testimonials — 66 in total, some accompanied by video. They recount the stories of unvaccinated family members who either were hospitalized or died after contracting the flu. The idea: to persuade anyone and everyone who believe that flu shots are only essential for older patients or those with underlying conditions.
One of the 66 stories details the 2012 flu season experience of Madi Allen, the daughter of FFF president Shelle Allen.
“We have a great relationship with our pediatrician,” Shelle recalled. “Madi always got the vaccine, I got it, my husband got it. But that year when we went in for her physical, they didn’t have it at the time. I put going back on my to-do list.”
Before Madi returned for her shot, she contracted the flu. She would ultimately spend 93 days in the hospital — and to this day, she’s still dealing with the aftermath. A year ago, Madi had one half of her left lung removed.
Prior to coming down with the flu, Madi was an active 12-year-old with no chronic health conditions, Shelle said. Her only visits to the doctor were for minor ailments.
“The most important message I can share is that the flu doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you are young or old, healthy or have a chronic illness,” Shelle said. “The flu will attack.”
In response to those who question the vaccine’s efficacy — yes, it is possible to get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated – Shelle turned to an analogy.
“When you get in your car, what is the first thing you do? You put on your seatbelt,” she said. “Can you guarantee that if you are in an accident that the seatbelt will save your life? No, but it’s the best chance you’ve got.”
Following Madi’s release from the hospital, Shelle became an advocate for the flu vaccine. “I thought I was the only one to have made this mistake, but then I saw another story,” she said. “I realized this is my daughter’s story, but another mom is writing it.”
Shelle and her FFF peers broadly believe in the power of real-life stories to spur behavioral change.
“You can hear data all day long and sometimes it will sink in. But when you hear a story, it tugs on the heart strings and it stays with you,” she said. “They will hopefully spark a conversation with a healthcare provider and lead people to reliable sources. The goal is to advocate and educate.”
And don’t discount the healing power of the Allen family sharing its own deeply personal, traumatic experience with the flu.
“As a mom, I will live with the guilt forever. We are all human and we all make mistakes — I know that in my brain, but my heart doesn’t feel that,” Shelle said. “Being able to tell Madi’s story and make a difference really helps. Something bad happened and now we are making it into something good.”