Why You Need a Flu Shot This Season
With millions of people getting sick from the flu each year, chances are you have had it at least once in your life. While it certainly isn’t enjoyable, it usually last for only a few days. As a result, it is easy to not take it seriously. However, influenza should not be underestimated. The flu can lead to more dangerous illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and worsen existing conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure. It is a dangerous disease that causes up to 710,000 hospitalizations and up to 56,000 deaths each year.
Certain people are more vulnerable to the dangers of influenza: young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions. This does not mean, however, that more healthy individuals cannot suffer the harmful effects of the flu. The CDC recommends that, with some rare exceptions, everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot. This not only protects you from the flu, but it protects everyone around you as well.
Protecting Yourself from the Flu
The best way to protect yourself and those around you from getting sick with influenza is to get vaccinated at the beginning of every flu season. In the United States, flu season can begin in October and last until May. When you are vaccinated, you are less likely to contract the illness and less likely to spread it to someone else. If enough people are vaccinated, it creates “community immunity,” where it is harder for the virus to spread because there are too few unvaccinated people to spread it. This has the benefit of protecting those who cannot receive a vaccination, such as those who are allergic to the shot.
Flu Vaccine Myths
In the past few years, more people have been avoiding vaccines due to misinformation. Many avoid the flu shot because they believe the shot causes dangerous side effects. In particular, widespread claims that the flu vaccine can cause autism have scared people away from vaccinations in general. However, such claims are not supported by scientific evidence. When it comes to side effects, no vaccine can guarantee 100% safety. However, serious complications from vaccines are much rarer than complications from influenza, and the side effects are usually mild.
Some say that the flu vaccine is ineffective, citing CDC’s estimate that the vaccine only prevented 23% of doctor’s visits for cases of the flu in the 2014-2015 season. It is true that sometimes, the flu shot has a low rate of effectiveness, but in other seasons the shot is more effective. Each year, different strains of the virus circulate. As it is not viable to vaccinate against every strain of the disease, the scientists making the vaccine need to predict which strain will be most abundant each season. The accuracy of their predictions can vary. This does not mean you shouldn’t get a flu shot. Even when the vaccination isn’t perfectly matched to the circulating strain of influenza, you will still get some protection. If you catch the flu after such a vaccination, your symptoms will likely be milder. In years when the vaccine is a good match, it is very effective. For example, in the 2012-2013 flu season, the CDC estimates that at least 6.6 million illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations were prevented by the flu vaccine. It is clear that the vaccine prevents the spread of disease, so it’s in your best interest to get vaccinated.