4 Reasons the Flu Shot This Year (And Every Year)
Health

4 Reasons the Flu Shot This Year (And Every Year)

Allison G.
Dec 17, 2020

COVID-19 is not the only health concern people to be aware of this winter. The annual flu season, which peaks between December and February, will surely add another layer of burden on the health system. Although people should be getting a flu shot every year, this year might be the most critical year to get vaccinated.

Influenza, the full name of the flu, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system – the throat, nose, and lungs. The flu is an extremely uncomfortable experience, but most people who get it can treat themselves at home without visiting a doctor.1

Nevertheless, the flu places a substantial burden on the health of Americans every year. It is hard to pinpoint the exact disease burden of influenza because there are a few factors at play each year – including the characteristics of the predominant viral strain, how well the vaccine is working against that strain, the flu season’s timing and how many people get vaccinated.

Despite how varied the numbers can be, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, since 2010, the flu has been responsible for between 9 and 45 million illnesses, 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 – 61,000 deaths each year.2

Getting the flu shot each year is your best defense against the flu. For just the 2019-2020 flu season alone, the CDC estimates influenza vaccination prevented approximately 7.5 million illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6,300 deaths due to influenza.3 Those are significant numbers – and individual decisions about flu vaccinations could have a major impact.

Not sure if you need the flu shot this year? Learn more about how vaccines work and why it is critically important for you to get the flu vaccine each year:

Vaccines: A Quick Primer

Understanding the fundamentals of vaccines – how they work and what they achieve – can help hammer home the importance of getting one. Vaccines include a certain amount of the virus or bacteria it is intended to fight, but in a modified or killed form so it cannot cause disease. When a vaccine is administered, the body’s immune system works to fight off the “intruder,” and because that intruder is weak, the body is successful in defeating it. This process produces antibodies – proteins the body uses to fight off that virus or bacteria should it ever enter the body again.

The flu vaccine helps protect against the flu, but unlike other routine vaccinations, the flu shot does not protect you for life. Specific reasons to get your flu shot each year include:

1. The Predominant Strain of the Flu Changes Year to Year

Vaccination as a treatment strategy is highly effective for diseases that do not change much, such as measles, pertussis and hepatitis. The influenza virus, on the other hand, is continuously changing. The CDC calls these annual changes “drifting” and “shifting” – with “drifting” referring to small changes in the influenza virus and “shifting” referring to larger, abrupt changes that result in new proteins in the influenza virus. Thus, you need the flu shot every year to ensure you are protected each year.4

Before each flu season, the CDC determines which flu strains are most likely to appear that year. Getting the flu shot can reduce your chances of contracting certain strains of the virus each year – and even if you do get sick, having the flu shot can significantly reduce your overall symptoms. Your best bet is to get immunized each year.4

Even when the strain of flu does not vary significantly year to year, it’s important to remember that the antibodies you may have built up the previous year from the shot may decline over time. Getting a shot each year ensures you have the latest vaccine available based on what scientists can predict about this year’s flu.5

2. The Flu is More Dangerous Than You Think

It is not uncommon for people to think the flu is just a normal part of getting sick each year – and in most cases, the sickness does resolve on its own without lasting effects.

That said, the flu can be dangerous, and complications can be deadly. People that face the highest risk for developing complications relating to the flu include:1

  • Young children – with the highest risk being in those under six months
  • People older than age 65
  • People who live in nursing homes or other type of long-term care facility
  • Pregnant women or women up to two weeks postpartum
  • The immunocompromised
  • People with chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease or liver disease
  • People who are extremely obese (BMI ≥40)

3. Protecting Yourself from the Flu Can Help Protect Others

Getting vaccinated each year reduces your chances of getting the flu each year – which in turn helps reduce the risk of spreading it to people who face a higher risk for complications. The illness is high contagious and easy to pass on to others. When an infected person coughs, talks or sneezes, tiny droplets spread all over. People in proximity can breathe in those droplets through their nose or mouth, or those droplets can land on objects that people later touch.

Getting a flu shot each year to protect yourself and others help support “herd immunity,” which is the idea that if enough people get vaccinated, illnesses cannot spread far because they keep encountering people who are protected. Herd immunity helps reduce incidence altogether, which helps protects those most vulnerable.6

4. The Flu Shot is Available and Affordable (If Not Free)

One of the primary reasons to get a flu vaccine, based on all the above, is because it is easy to do. There are many settings in which you can get the flu vaccine – often at no cost to you.

Of course, the flu shot is available in every doctor’s office each year – but there are many other places to get one. Pharmacies are typically staffed with people certified to administer vaccines, and you can usually walk in and get one without an appointment. If you’re unsure where to go, the CDC has a handy Flu Vaccine Finder that can help you figure out a location offering flu vaccines near you.

The Affordable Care Act classifies the flu shot as preventive care, meaning if you have insurance, the cost of the vaccine should be completely covered. If you do not have insurance, the flu vaccine is still affordable – usually between $30 and $40, which is undoubtedly much cheaper than a hospital trip if you do get the flu and experience complications. Many county health departments offer free flu shots to people with and without insurance.

Sources

  1. The Mayo Clinic. Influenza (flu). Last reviewed December 9, 2020.
  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Burden of Influenza. Last reviewed October 5, 2020.
  3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, and Hospitalizations Averted by Vaccination in the United States – 2019-2020 Influenza Season. Last reviewed October 6, 2020.
  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How the Flu Virus Can “Drift” and “Shift.” Last reviewed October 15, 2019.
  5. The Mayo Clinic. Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza. November 13, 2020.
  6. The Mayo Clinic. Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know. Last reviewed June 6, 2020.

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