Nov 03, 2017

Our Team Leads by Example

I consider myself fortunate. I get to spend my workdays with a group of smart, dynamic, and amazing public health professionals. Across our small, but mighty, team - creativity, passion for life, helping others, and living a healthy lifestyle is every bit as contagious as the influenza virus.

So it probably comes as no surprise when we launch our annual flu campaign each fall, Team Vaccine is the first to roll-up our sleeves to get vaccinated, and we ensure our family members and friends are protected as well. We talk to whoever will listen (even the pizza guy!), post pro-vaccine messages on Facebook, tweet, and Instagram our flu shot pics.  

But surveys say just over one-quarter of Nevada adults get a flu shot. Years ago, I used to be one of those people. Surprised? Me too. So, what changed my mind? (Besides leading Immunize Nevada!)

In 2006, before I was hired at Immunize Nevada, I got sick. Miserably, horribly, awful, can barely function, sick – in bed, fever, sore throat, aches. I obviously had influenza. I missed over a week of work, and luckily my young son escaped getting sick too, despite not having received a flu shot. The next flu season, we both got vaccinated. I didn’t want to relive the misery of the year before, and I believe that healthcare professionals have a duty to practice what we preach – whether it’s immunizations, tobacco use, or disease prevention. We haven't missed a flu shot since, nor have we gotten the flu again. (except that one year - when millions of people got sick.)

That year was 2009. My son came home from summer day camp not feeling well and my fears were confirmed by the rapid test; he had H1N1. (Disclaimer: He was vaccinated but it didn’t yet protect against H1N1) He was really sick. The sickest I’ve ever seen him. We both were prescribed Tamiflu and I spent the next 10 days taking care of him. I missed work and other activities, but more importantly, I spent 10 days worrying if we were going to end up in the hospital, or even scarier - if he was going to make it to his 8th birthday. Influenza is unpredictable, and many tragic stories involve kids quickly taking a turn for the worse and it being too late to save them.

Worrying about your child dying from a vaccine-preventable disease is something no parent should have to do. The CDC estimates ~5 million to ~13 million cases during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were in kids, and there were 348 pediatric deaths (estimates show this number could actually be as high as 1,800).

It’s not like I was ignorant about the severity of influenza. My great grandfather and my great aunt died in the influenza pandemic of 1918, leaving behind their spouses and young children. Unfortunately, back in 2001 when my son was born in the middle of flu season, getting a flu vaccine wasn’t recommended by our doctors (for him or me). Four years later, our local hospital started “cocooning” babies by offering flu and Tdap vaccines to new parents. Today, vaccinating pregnant women so their babies are born with protection is not only a CDC recommendation, it's best practice. And for everyone six months and older, getting a flu vaccine has been a universal recommendation for years. We learned from and listened to the science - community immunity is key to preventing the spread of influenza. 

In the last 10 years, have I gotten the flu from a flu vaccine? Nope, it's not possible. Have I sometimes felt side effects from my body working to protect me? Absolutely. Arm soreness, fever – they’re worth it knowing not only am I keeping myself healthy each flu season, but I’m also protecting those who are too young, old, or sick.

As Executive Director of Immunize Nevada, I meet a lot of people and I’ve heard countless stories about how terrible vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza can be. Sharing these stories with others has inspired a lot of people to get vaccinated. The influence each of us has on one another is incredibly powerful. This is the intention behind our “InFLUence Others: Get Vaccinated” campaign. Through our outreach and education efforts, our goal is for all Nevadans to recognize the power of their own influence when it comes to getting their annual flu vaccine. It’s a lot easier to promote health and prevent disease when those around you are also making the same choices.

So don’t take a chance, and don’t be a statistic. Log onto, click on find flu clinic locations, and take charge of your health. It’s not too late; and your family, friends, and community will thank you.

Go ahead! Follow the lead of the Immunize Nevada team, get vaccinated, and use your inFLUence to spread the message of health—not the flu—with those you know. And if you want to get involved with our life-saving mission, click here to see how you can volunteer, donate, or take action


During the second week of November (6-11), CDC is hosting a blog-a-thon focused on the importance of the flu vaccine. Immunize Nevada is proud to be participating in this important digital event.

Heidi Parker, MA

As executive director of Immunize Nevada, Heidi Parker, MA leads and engages a diverse coalition of staff, volunteers, member organizations and funders so they are passionate about vaccines and access to preventive health care across Nevada’s rural, urban and frontier communities. Bringing over two decades of experience in nonprofit program management, fundraising and marketing, she has dedicated her career to being able to affect her community in a positive way, whether working with Head Start families, victims of violence, college students or Nevadans needing immunizations.