Post #2: Get Your Flu Vaccine

The new year has finally arrived! I know that I cannot speak for everyone but GOODBYE 2019 and hello 2020. I welcome all of its challenges. And what challenges do most new years bring? If you said an increase in influenza, you are correct—congratulations!

From an infection preventionists perspective flu season is never actually over. Preparation begins basically when the traditional flu season is over for the next season. It really is a headache. The worst part however is that all of this preparation and action can sometimes feel worthless. Why you might ask? Because less and less people are getting the flu shot. The CDC said that only 42% of Americans received their flu shot in 2017-2018 down 5% from the year before. A decline in vaccination might have contributed to 2017-2018 being the worst flu season in decades. (CDC) During this season 80,000 flu related deaths occurred, the most since the 1967-1977 flu season. (Associated Press) Considering that the average deaths caused by flu each year is between 12,000-61,000 deaths…81,000 is a lot! (CDC-Burden)  

Look, I know that the flu shot gets a bad rap and maybe some of the criticism is earned. But it is still the best way to prevent the spread of flu and protect the most vulnerable in our community. So, let’s just bust a few myths:

  1. The flu shot DOES NOT give you the flu. I could shout this from the rooftops. It is the hill I will die on. Argue with me, I dare you. Yes, you might get a bit of an immune response that makes you feel a bit crummy. And even that is only 1% of the vaccinated population. I mean, have you ever had the flu? I have, and let me tell you I would take feeling a tad crummy after the vaccine any day over having full blown flu.
  2. The flu shot IS SAFE. As stated above, you might feel crummy for a day or so but other than that 99% of people are just fine.
  3. The flu shot DOES work. Sure, there have been years when the efficacy of the vaccine is lower than usual. And sure, the science of picking the next flu strains could improve. Yet, even with all of these concerns vaccinated individuals are 60% less likely to catch the flu than their unvaccinated counterparts. Not to mention, even if you were to contract a strain of the flu different from the vaccine the illness duration might be shorter because of cross-reactivity. Basically, your body sees the new flu strain and says, “I think I know this strains sister and don’t like her,” then mounts a larger immune response to get you healthier faster.
  4. The flu CAN be spread even if you are not feeling sick. Yea, you read that right! Roughly 20-30% of people carrying the influenza virus do not have symptoms. This is a huge deal. You can spread it to people who cannot fight it without even knowing it. BIG DEAL

Which leads me to my biggest point, the public depends on you to get vaccinated:

While you might be a healthy adult, your neighbor might an elderly immune compromised adult. While we love that you’re healthy, we want to protect your neighbor. Expand this idea to a whole community. You are going to have groups of healthy teens and adults who are at lower risk of complications from the flu. And you’re also going to have groups of babies, elderly adults, and immune compromised individuals who need extra support. From a public health perspective, we don’t want to just keep the healthy people healthy or just protect the vulnerable, we want everyone to flourish. Which means that getting the flu shot isn’t just about your personal needs it truly is about the needs of the entire community. It is called herd immunity. When the healthy herd is protected, the “weaker” individuals are also protected. Everyone wins.

We all have our part to play, so roll up your shirt sleeve and play yours.

Sources:

Associated Press. “At Least 80,000 People Died from the Flu Last Winter in the U.S., the CDC says.” (September 2018). NBC news. Retrieved from:
www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/least-80-000-people-died-flu-last-winter-u-s-n913486.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (September 2018). “2010-11 through 2017-18 Influenza Seasons Vaccination Coverage Trend Report.” FluVaxView, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Retrieved from:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxfivew/reportshtml/trends/index.html 

CDC-Burden. (December, 2019). Disease Burden of Influenza. Retrieved from:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

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