Last winter, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. died from flu-related illnesses, making it the deadliest flu season since 1976. This year, infectious disease experts and medical professionals recommend that people get a flu vaccine earlier in the season.
What’s new this year?
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, as it takes two weeks to gain full protection. Getting vaccinated before Halloween (and certainly by Thanksgiving) is the best way to protect yourself and your family from flu.
The composition of this year’s vaccine is slightly different than last season, as it contains protection against different strains of the H3N2 and the influenza B viruses.
Unfortunately, flu viruses are unpredictable, so health professionals aren’t yet sure if the current flu season will be as bad as last year’s flu season. However, some experts point to last year’s active flu season and the Southern Hemisphere’s severe season this year as reasons to believe another severe flu season may be ahead.
Last year, only 39 percent of adults were vaccinated before November. While the CDC warns that young children and older populations are at a higher risk for flu complications, it’s essential that adults get vaccinated as well to prevent transmission of the virus. Below are the most common reasons adults give for avoiding the vaccine—and why those reasons are inaccurate:
“I don’t need a flu shot; I’m young and healthy.”
A common reason people give for not getting vaccinated is that they don’t need it––they’re healthy, young and have never had influenza. However, the flu can be deadly for even healthy adults. In some healthy individuals, the introduction of a new flu strain produces an exaggerated immune response, sending so many antibodies to fight the virus that it also attacks healthy tissue and organs. A 21-year-old college student who was healthy and athletic was among those who died from flu complications last December.
“The flu shot may not even be that effective this year.”
Following last year’s flu epidemic, many are concerned about the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. However, even if you do become ill with the flu after getting vaccinated, studies have shown the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness and its symptoms.
“Flu season already started. It’s too late to get a shot.”
Another misconception is that it’s “too late” to get a flu vaccine after flu season starts. In Texas, flu activity usually peaks in December, January and February, but it can strike at any time. Getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial. It’s never too late to get your flu shot during flu season, but you’ll be best protected by getting a flu shot before the end of October.
KXAN interviewed Dr. Ryan McCorkle, Emergency Medicine Physician at St. David’s Medical Center, about the importance of early vaccination.