Have you gotten your flu shot? If you haven’t, the good news is it’s still available, and even at this late date, it can still help protect you during flu season, which starts in early fall and doesn’t wind down until May. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue into January or even later.
The flu and flu-related complications killed 80,000 Americans last year, making it the worst flu season in forty years. Anyone can get the flu, but young children, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease are particularly vulnerable. Severe complications from the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. According to the CDC, the flu causes employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays annually, leading to an estimated $7 billion a year in lost productivity.
These statistics are why U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams believes people have a social responsibility to get vaccinated. “That herd immunity is so, so very important,” said Adams. “That community immunity is what we want to take home today; 80,000 deaths last year and they all got the flu from someone else.”
Unfortunately, achieving herd immunity is an uphill battle. Less than half of Americans (47 percent) follow the CDC recommendation to get immunized against the flu every year. This occurs even though flu vaccines are covered under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid as preventive care, making them free in most instances. For people without insurance, out-of-pocket costs vary between $20 and $70 depending on the type of vaccine, where it’s available and the age and health of the person getting it.
Misconceptions about the vaccine contribute to people choosing not to get a flu shot. First, getting it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, although many people think otherwise. While there can be side effects, including a low-grade fever, you cannot get the flu from the vaccination. That’s because the vaccine either doesn’t contain live flu viruses or has been genetically altered and cannot replicate.
There are a number of reasons why some people get the vaccine and still get the flu. These include:
- They were exposed to the virus before they got the vaccine, or within the two-week window before it becomes effective.
- They were exposed to a flu virus not included in the vaccine, which is remade every year to protect against the three or four flu viruses research suggests will be the most common.
- They have a weakened immune system due to chronic illness or old age and did not build up enough resistance to protect against the flu after receiving the vaccine.
While there is new evidence that the protection offered by the vaccine decreases over the course of the flu season, medical experts say there is no reason to change the vaccination schedule (which promotes getting the vaccine by the end of October) since it’s not possible to pinpoint exactly when flu season begins.
“[If people could reliably get vaccinated the week or two before the flu season starts, they’d be better protected,” said Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “The more complicated thing is the trade-off between putting it off and not doing it at all.”
If you’re still debating whether or not to get vaccinated, keep in mind it’s not just your health at stake. Even if you bounce back, you could be responsible for making a family member or coworker sick. Do your part to help keep this flu season from being another record-breaking killer. Find out where the flu vaccine is available and go ahead and get it. It’s one of the easiest ways to protect your health and the health of your community this winter.
The LHSFNA has developed a number of materials that can help educate Laborers on how to stay healthy during flu season. These include our new Cold and Flu toolbox talk and our Seasonal Influenza Health Alert. For more information or to order these and other materials, call 202-628-5465 or visit our website at www.lhsfna.org and click on Publications.
What Is Herd Immunity?
When the majority of a community is immunized against a contagious disease such as the flu, most non-eligible members of the community – children younger than six months and people who are allergic to eggs or any of the ingredients in the flu vaccine – are also protected. That’s because there is little opportunity for an outbreak.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]