Why you need the flu shot this year — and every year

At least 73 children have died as a result of influenza in Texas over the past five years. Seventy-three needless deaths that likely could have been prevented if more Texans had gotten their annual flu vaccine.

Because misconceptions abound regarding what the flu actually is, every minor sniffle and cough is referred to as “the flu.” But the virus' severity cannot be understated: It kills an average of roughly 23,000 people in the United States each year — more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Vaccination is the best defense we have against the virus, but not enough people are getting shots.

The flu shot is one of the Centers for Disease Control’s least-adhered-to recommendations, with only half of eligible Texans — and two-thirds of Texas children — receiving the annual dose. When vaccination rates are broken down even further, only a disappointing 34 percent of adults 18 to 49 were vaccinated against flu in Texas last season, not even close to the U.S. Health Department's Healthy People 2020 objective of 70 percent.

Taking time out to go to the doctor or pharmacist might seem like a pain — especially around the busy holiday season — but there are good reasons the CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get the vaccine every year. Influenza is a rapidly mutating virus, and the vaccine formulation is often adjusted to protect against new strains. Plus, your body's resistance to the virus weakens over time; an annual shot ensures peak protection and shields you from the latest strain.

Another excuse often used for not receiving the flu shot is a concern that it may not work. For example, because the flu virus mutated early last year, the 2014-2015 flu shot had a lower-than-average effectiveness rate. This year’s vaccine formulation appears to be a much better match, closer to the typical 50 to 60 percent rate of effectiveness. Half as likely you’ll get sick might not seem worth the hassle — but health experts disagree.

The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that getting yourself vaccinated is not just about protecting you. It's also about protecting anyone you could pass the contagious disease onto even if you do not have any symptoms. If that person is a child under 6 months, a pregnant woman or immunocompromised — or someone who cares for them — it can prove fatal. Lowering your chances of getting the flu also reduces the likelihood of infecting those most vulnerable to hospitalization and death as a result of the disease, such as a child. And that’s a different story.

That’s why the flu shot should not be an afterthought — and why Texas’ current adherence rate is not acceptable.

Seventy-three deaths. With safe and effective flu vaccines available, this number isn’t just devastating — it’s shameful. It’s time for Texans to step up and take personal responsibility for the role they play in protecting our communities.

Get a flu shot today. Do it for Texas’ kids, and do it for yourself.

Anna C. Dragsbaek

President and CEO of The Immunization Partnership

@ADragsbaek

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