While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses can be detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. The flu is serious and can even be deadly, but it’s also preventable – and the flu vaccine has been shown to be one of the best ways to protect against the flu.
Shoo the Flu is a public-private partnership between the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the Page Family Foundation and other community partners in Oakland, Calif., committed to public health by decreasing flu and flu-related disease burden within the Oakland area.
The program uses school-located influenza vaccination (SLIV) to reach elementary school children. We spoke with Katherine “Kate” Holbrook, MS, RN, CNS, PHN, program manager of Shoo the Flu, to learn more about this community-based program and the unique role nurses play in decreasing flu-related disease burden within communities.
Nursing Notes (NN): Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your nursing career?
Kate: I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Health and Societies and minored in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. After that, I moved to California where I earned my Master of Science in Advanced Community Health and International Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. I worked by the bedside as a nurse for five years until I moved to Honduras to manage a rural emergency and birthing clinic, and assist in monitoring and evaluating a local public health care network.
NN: Could you tell us about Shoo the Flu and how you became involved with the organization?
Kate: I stumbled upon the project manager position at Shoo the Flu by chance. The position wasn’t specifically seeking a nurse candidate, but as I read the job description, I thought I had a lot of the qualities and experiences they were looking for. The program bridges public and private entities in hopes to reduce the disease burden of the flu and flu-related illness in the Oakland area. We do this with any public, private, or charter elementary school that wants to become involved. The local school district takes an active role in coordination, is engaged in planning, and helps with decision making, while the local and state health departments provide oversight, technical assistance, and supplies.
NN: Nurses play a vital role in flu prevention efforts; can you discuss this niche role in more detail?
Kate: Although nurses are often the people who are administering the flu shot itself, I think nurses are important contributors to the planning and implementation of programs like Shoo the Flu, too, as they can provide clinical insight, train staff implementing the program and provide knowledge about the community served. Whether they work in a hospital, a community program, a clinic, or a school, nurses can provide awareness of the flu and the importance of getting vaccinated.
NN: From a nurse’s perspective, what is something individuals outside the healthcare field may not know about the flu?
Kate: First, people should know that the flu is a dangerous disease and that people still die from the disease every year. The most vulnerable people are those who can’t be vaccinated, like infants 6 months and younger, or who don’t have a great immune system, like the elderly population. Those who are vaccinated face a less-severe disease burden and are less likely to need hospitalization. People should also know the best ways to protect themselves are to wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and stay away from others who are sick.
NN: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kate: As a program manager for a community-based public health program, much of my education and experience as a nurse has been beneficial in this role. Even if job descriptions don’t necessarily require you to be a nurse, you would be surprised at how well your skills and knowledge as a nurse are best suited to inform public health program planning and implementation. Even if the actual program coordinators are not nurses, it’s important to have nurse oversight or input.
To learn how population growth, urbanization, increased travel and climate change have increased the risk that familiar diseases such as Ebola, influenza and Zika will spread and mutate, check out Unseen Enemy, which is available to rent or buy on Amazon. Unseen Enemy is a powerful film that tells the story of infectious diseases and encourages each of us to do our part in preventing the next pandemic. Johnson & Johnson is proud to be the founding outreach partner of this urgent and compelling film.
As seen in Unseen Enemy, even healthy people can get the flu, and can spread it to others even if they don’t feel sick. Take preventative measures this flu season, to help protect yourself, your family, and your patients. Watch and share Shannon’s story to help raise awareness.
For more information on the Johnson & Johnson commitment to advance human health and its efforts to combat infectious diseases, please visit jnj.com/progress.