Winter is coming, and along with festivities and the chance to spend time with loved ones, it is also prime flu season.
For a variety of reasons, most folks in the U.S. don’t get vaccinated each year, as Kaiser Health News reported late last week.
This is an unfortunate choice that creates risks both for the individual and for the small number of people who, for medical reasons, are unable to be vaccinated.
The upsides to getting a flu shot are unquestionable: Your chances of getting sick are halved; a bout with the flu will tend to be less severe; and the shots are free for people with insurance.
Even if they weren’t free, it’s a good bet that the out-of-pocket cost for a shot would be lower than the cost of getting sick.
Health officials say the main reason people don’t get shots is the perception they don’t work. Unlike an MMR shot, for example, flu vaccines are “only” 40-60% effective.
But that’s still better than the 0% effectiveness of no vaccine, and the shots still reduce how sick you will get if you do catch the flu.
Vaccinations also cut risks for people who can’t get the shots themselves — for example, those with compromised immune systems.
While the overall vaccination rate in Washington was 51% in 2018, the numbers are more encouraging in two populations with a higher risk for complications: children and senior citizens. About three-quarters of children in the U.S. got flu shots last year, joined by about two-thirds of people over 65.
It doesn’t take an advanced math degree to figure out that under 30% of the rest of the population got a flu shot in 2018.
Considering that the flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, getting a shot is a no-brainer, and it isn’t too late to head to a provider’s office or pharmacy to get inoculated.
As Benton-Franklin Health District nurse Heather Hill told the Tri-City Herald this week, the sooner the better.
“With lots of people close together the flu shot you get today isn’t going to protect you this weekend,” she said. “But it will protect you starting in about two weeks. And we know flu season isn’t going to be over anytime soon.”