The rowdy cheers of joy following Sunday’s Minnesota Vikings victory were a welcome change from the low, rumbling coughs and trumpeting nose blows that influenza is serving up as winter’s soundtrack. Those who want future sore throats to be caused only by nonstop yelling for the home team — and not by this dangerous respiratory virus — should get vaccinated right away.
Late last week came troubling warnings from state and national health officials. The flu, which can have deadly complications, is widespread in all states but Hawaii, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The indicators used to gauge the flu season’s severity are on track with those from 2014-2015, which was dubbed one of “high severity.”
The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting a sharp increase in hospitalizations due to flu and, tragically, that one child has died after contracting it. With the virus barreling toward peak activity, the agency’s world-class infectious disease experts warned Minnesotans to get the flu shot if they haven’t already. “We still have a lot of flu season left,’’ said the Health Department’s Kris Ehresmann in a Jan. 11 Star Tribune story.
The CDC recommends the flu shot, which is given annually to guard against flu strains that vary from season to season, for all those 6 months of age and older. Virtually everyone in your home, your office, your bus, the train, the plane or gathered around the big-screen TV watching football should have had one by now.
Regrettably, the vaccination rate for those 18 and older is just 43.6 percent — a real shame given that the shot is readily available at clinics and pharmacies and often is covered at low or no-cost. Among the excuses for not getting the annual shot: that the vaccination actually gives people the flu.
Like other vaccine mistruths, that’s bunk. Injectable flu vaccines are either made with no flu viruses or with viruses that have been inactivated and thus are not infectious. In addition, research has disproved the notion that the shot makes people ill.
Unfortunately, a new excuse for foregoing the shot has surfaced this year — that it’s not very effective, so why bother? But neither reality nor logic supports this irresponsible conclusion.
Important context absent from news reports that have fueled concerns about effectiveness. What the CDC calls an “interim estimate” from Australia suggested that this season’s vaccine is only 10 percent effective against one of the season’s circulating strains. Key information missing: The yearly shot protects against multiple flu strains, not just one.
In addition, the CDC noted that last year’s vaccine was 32 percent effective against the type of flu strain noted in the Australian data. Agency officials believe this is a better predictor of how well this year’s vaccine will work against it.
Some misguided people may conclude that the shot still doesn’t work well enough to get vaccinated. That’s wrong. Getting the shot is even more important when effectiveness dips. The reasons: The shot still confers some protection and can help reduce symptoms’ severity. Reducing the number of people who get sick in turn limits the disease’s spread.
The CDC estimates that the number of influenza illnesses in the U.S. ranges from 9.2 million to 35.6 million a year. Other practical steps to avoid becoming a statistic include washing your hands often, staying home if you’re ill and covering your cough. The vaccine, however, remains a critical step to safeguard not just your health but the well-being of your loved ones.
With the flu season kicking off in October and potentially running into May, it’s barely halftime. There’s still time to get the shot and for it to work.