Every fall, you see the signs go up encouraging you to get your flu shot. They’re virtually everywhere: the doctor’s office, drug stores, schools, even grocery stores. Yet, despite the ubiquity of these advertisements across the United States, millions of Americans each year will ignore the warning signs, and some will die from complications of seasonal influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in its 2014-2015 report that only 47 percent of all people aged 6 months and older received the flu vaccination that season. It also estimates that a range of 3,000 to 49,000 people died each year from the flu between the 1976-1977 and 2006-2007 season. It’s impossible to predict how many flu-related deaths will occur each year because the flu virus varies in length and severity from year to year. Nevertheless, people do die from the flu and many of these deaths could be prevented with the flu vaccine.
I was saddened by the story of a young girl, 12-year-old Piper Lowery, who passed away from complications of influenza. Piper’s mother, Pegy, allowed Piper to forgo getting her yearly flu shot due to a fear of needles. Pegy has since become an advocate for the flu vaccine, working with the Tacoma-based Fight the Flu Foundation, because she realizes in hindsight that a flu shot could have saved her daughter’s life.
One of the main arguments people have against getting flu shots is that they don’t think they need it or they fear potential side effects. Many parents choose not to have their children vaccinated because it was not directly recommended by their child’s pediatrician or they believe their child is healthy and not at risk for contracting the flu. Additionally, a myth suggesting a correlation between immunizations and autism that surfaced a few years ago, despite being largely disproved even by officials at Autism Speaks, still gives rise to fears about the safety of the flu vaccine. Many people are simply uninformed on the importance of getting the flu shot. So, to clear up any confusion, if the risk of death is not enough to convince you of the importance of the flu vaccine, here are five reasons everyone should get an annual flu shot:
- A flu vaccination helps prevent you from getting sick with the flu. Studies show that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of hospital visits due to the flu by 50-60%. Although the vaccination does not guarantee protection against the flu, according to the CDC, “Some people who get vaccinated might still get sick. However, people who get a flu vaccine are less likely to get sick with flu or hospitalized from flu than someone who does not get vaccinated.”2.
- Flu shots are readily available and usually free or inexpensive. Many stores offer the vaccine without requiring an appointment and virtually all health insurance plans cover it. Even if you do have to pay for the shot, it will only cost you about $20. 3.
- It’s virtually painless. The injection is just a small prick on the arm and it typically only causes mild muscle tenderness for a day or so after the injection. As an alternative for those with a fear of needles, the vaccine is available in the form of a nasal mist.
- Contrary to myth, it can’t give you the flu. There is a common misconception that you can get sick with the flu as a result of the low dosage of the influenza virus delivered via the vaccination. In reality, the purpose of the vaccine, according to the CDC, is to “cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination.” The antibodies protect against infection with the viruses in the vaccine and will build up your immune system to reduce your chances of coming down with the actual flu virus.
- Getting a flu shot will protect the people around you. By protecting yourself from the flu, you are also reducing the risk of spreading it to those more vulnerable to serious illness, like infants, children, elderly people, and those with chronic health conditions.
Hopefully that’s all it takes to convince you to get your flu shot if you haven’t already. Trust me- when it comes to your health and the health of those around you, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.