It's National Influenza Vaccination week, and a good time to talk about getting your flu vaccine. While the COVID vaccine has held the world's attention for a year, the world may have lost sight that flu season is upon us, and this year's vaccine is vital. For some of us, the flu will simply be an inconvenience- a few days where we get to lay on the couch and binge our favorite tv show. But for others (approximately 36,000 Americans), the flu will result in hospitalization or death. 2021-2022 flu season is now, and here are the top three things you should know about the flu vaccine this year.
The Flu Vaccine Protects Your Health and Your Pocket Book
Each year, the CDC tracks data to examine the flu's burden on the US healthcare system as a whole. They look at the overall number of illnesses, outpatient visits, hospitalizations, and flu-associated deaths. Though the 2021-2022 flu season is gearing up, researchers have recently started releasing data from 2020-2021. Last year's season was mild in the US and globally, likely due to COVID mitigation efforts. This means that we may see an uptick in flu cases this year, so the community and healthcare workers need to get vaccinated.
When flu cases increase in the community, so do hospitalizations for flu and other illnesses such as stroke and myocardial infarctions. A 2018 study found that patients diagnosed with influenza had a 6 times higher risk for myocardial infarction and stroke. Less severe consequences are that more people will miss work due to illness or to care for loved ones, and companies will see a loss in productivity. The flu costs more than just lives, it can cost money.
The CDC estimates that the flu costs a total economic burden of $87.1 billion. Additional money is lost from sick days and decreased productivity. Whatever your profession, the flu season is expensive. Imagine these costs compounded by another flu-like illness such as COVID: it's not pretty. Flu vaccinations will reduce personal sick days and personal time off to care for a sick family member. Our economy is just as unstable as our healthcare system. And many things are out of our control right now. Getting your flu vaccine is one thing you can do to protect yourself and the economy.
The Flu Vaccine Saves Lives
Still not convinced the flu vaccine matters? Here is the most straightforward reason I can give to promote vaccination: It saves lives. If I had a dollar for every time a patient, friend or acquaintance claimed they didn't need to get the flu vaccine because they never get sick or that the flu vaccine gives them the flu, I would have many hypothetical dollars. None of these falsities are supported by science. Another misconception is that the flu vaccine doesn't work. "I got the vaccine, and I still got sick." Remember, the flu vaccine cocktail each season is based on projections. Epidemiologists track what flu strains are circulating and then predict what viral strains will be most active during the season. Like weather forecasts, sometimes they get it wrong. But that doesn't mean the flu vaccine is pointless. The purpose of the vaccine is not to prevent the flu but to decrease illness severity, decrease hospitalization and death. So even if the vaccine is not perfect, it prepares your body to fight the flu strains you are exposed to.
It's the Best Holiday Gift You Can Give
Last and most importantly, the flu vaccine is not about you. It's about protecting your community. Protect yourself but also consider that you are protecting the vulnerable. Some populations can't get the flu vaccine because they are immunosuppressed or too young. Other groups are more likely to have a severe illness, hospitalization, or death. Data shows that 9 out of 10 people hospitalized from the flu had one or more comorbidities such as diabetes, pregnancy, asthma, chronic kidney disease, or neurological conditions. For more information on specific groups at high risk, click here. Many people think vaccines are about the individual. I would argue vaccines are about the community and a selfless way to show others you care about their well-being above your own.
So this holiday season, consider giving yourself the gift of the flu vaccine. I often struggle to think of the perfect present to buy for my family and friends, but the gift of health is a genuine way to show you care. Get your flu vaccine this year. It may save your life or someone else's.
To learn more about this year's flu season and the effects of COVID, click here.
Also, if vaccines are your passion, check out our partner Vaccine Ambassadors to learn more about how you can help the rest of the world access vaccines.