Every fall, flu vaccination reminders can be seen at clinics and pharmacies throughout the community. The cost is relatively low, and getting the vaccination, whether as a shot or nasal spray, only takes a few minutes. No big deal, right? Unfortunately, although it's easy to get the flu vaccine, not everyone does. And that can be a problem.
Contracting the flu can result in up to seven uncomfortable days in bed for a healthy person with a strong immune system. But for those who are most vulnerable - young children, those over age 65, and others who may have weaker immune systems - pneumonia and other complications of the influenza virus can be deadly.
Even young, healthy individuals can succumb to particularly dangerous strains of the flu such as the H1N1 "swine flu," which caused a pandemic in 2009.
One only needs to look at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics to see the flu risk more clearly: 2017-2018 was a very bad flu season, with an estimated 79,400 flu-associated deaths in the U.S. Of those, 86 percent were 65 or older. Nearly a million people were hospitalized with complications of the flu, and of those hospitalized, 48,000 were children.
One hundred eighty-five children were confirmed to have died from complications of the flu, while an estimated 600 more were suspected, but not confirmed, to have died from complications of the flu. The CDC estimates that only 37 percent of adults were vaccinated last year.
So the goal is to prevent people - especially those at the highest risk- from getting the flu in the first place.
This is where the immunity of everyone else, or "herd immunity," as I like to say, comes in. When the entire herd is immunized, the chance that the flu will reach the most vulnerable is greatly minimized. Remember, although you may be healthy and rarely get sick, you can still get the flu. And if you can get the flu, you can transmit the flu, even before you experience any symptoms.
The takeaway: getting vaccinated isn't just for you; you can literally save the lives of others in your community.
The flu vaccine is available to adults of all ages, including pregnant women, and children 6 months and older. There are different flu vaccine dosages, formulations, and applications based on an individual's age and other health factors. If you have questions or concerns about the flu vaccine, talk to your primary care doctor.
Dr. Katherine McCrea is a family physician at Mercy Family Medicine in Bayfield.