DMC’s Big Shot program fights the flu

Efforts include free shots for select groups

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 16, 2012

MADISON HEIGHTS — For 12 years now, hospitals and institutes affiliated with the Detroit Medical Center have teamed up with local organizations to provide free shots protecting against influenza, better known as the flu.

This year’s Big Shot program provided flu vaccinations to at least 20 Metro Detroit organizations. All nine DMC hospitals and institutes were involved, including the DMC Surgery Hospital in Madison Heights.

Due to limited resources, the Big Shot program had to be selective with which groups they helped. But vaccinations are only half of the story; the DMC also wants to raise awareness about influenza, since the flu season peaks in early winter, and many people are still not vaccinated.  

“Over the years, we’ve really ramped up the importance of the flu shot, even within our own staff,” said Sarah Collica, spokesperson for DMC Surgery Hospital. “Each (Big Shot) event we have is extremely well-attended.”

For DMC Surgery Hospital in Madison Heights, they chose to provide flu shots to the police and fire departments in Madison Heights, the Eastpointe Senior Citizens Center in Eastpointe, and the South Oakland Shelter in Lathrup Village.

For police and fire, the shots were given throughout two mornings in late October. Some stayed beyond their shifts to visit the Fire Department and get vaccinated. At the senior center, some individuals brought gifts for the nurses, out of gratitude.

“Nobody likes to get a shot, but people are realizing how important it is to staying healthy,” Collica said.

At press time, there had been 12 cases of influenza confirmed so far in Michigan’s 2012-13 flu season, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. The peak of the season is in January and February, so it’s still not too late to get vaccinated.

“Based on what we’re seeing in the emergency department, it seems there’s a little more activity this year than last year,” said Dr. Ali Hassan, chief of emergency department at DMC Surgery Hospital.

“Last year, we didn’t have much of a flu season,” he said. “Then there was the 2009-10 season where H1N1 was the prevalent strain; this resulted in a very busy season, where emergency departments were overwhelmed with people coming in with flu-like symptoms.”

Hassan said it’s hard to predict how this year will be. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. The flu itself is a serious illness; 36,000 Americans die from flu-related complications each year, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized. Those most vulnerable to the flu are individuals older than age 65.      

Basic hygiene is one way to avoid catching or spreading the flu. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially whenever you sneeze or come into contact with someone with flu-like symptoms. If soap is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, since they’re pathways for the virus to enter your body.

All of this being said, “The No. 1 recommendation for prevention, from the Center for Disease Control, is to get the vaccination,” Hassan said. “One big misconception is people are always afraid they’ll catch the flu from the vaccine, but with the injectable vaccine we currently use, there is no way to catch the flu from the vaccine itself.”

The reason, Hassan explained, is the injectable vaccine uses a dead virus, as opposed to in the past when a live, attenuated (weakened) virus was used.

“Now, it’s completely dead,” Hassan said. “You still hear patients come in and say they got sick because they had the flu vaccine, but we know that’s not possible.”

He said people may briefly experience slight symptoms after getting the vaccine, such as soreness, redness and pain at the injection site, and maybe mild body aches and fever, but these will dissipate in a matter of mere hours — far more short-lived and less severe than actual contraction of the flu.

There is a version of the vaccine that still uses a live, attenuated virus, and thus still has a chance of spreading the flu: the nasal vaccine.

“The nasal vaccine is given to a more selective population,” Hassan said, noting it’s not given to people who have medical conditions, such as chronic lung or heart disease, kidney failure or illnesses that weaken the immune system. He added that people under age 2 and over age 50 can’t receive the nasal spray, nor can pregnant women.

In any case, “The vaccine itself is not immunizing against every virus that can give flu-like symptoms … (but rather) the three most common strains of flu virus prevalent today,” Hassan said. “The three it immunizes you against are the most common ones, which cause people the most severe illness.”

The vaccine stacks the odds greatly in your favor when it comes to staying healthy, the doctor said — certainly enough to overcome the fear of getting a shot.

“The needle is typically injected in the upper arm, and it’s not that big of a needle,” Hassan said. “It’s pretty quick. It’s not as painful as people think. I think the people who are afraid of it, once they try it and see it’s not a big deal, they will end up getting it year after year.”

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