Senior with the flu

Get your flu shot!

I am, according to my youngest sons (nee grandsons), “a dinosaur”. I‘ve told them about “ice boxes” at our summer cottage, “party line” telephones (they still can’t understand how THAT terminology makes any sense with my explanation), and playing tennis in the streets until the street lights came on. I’ve also told them about my recollection of standing in a very long line with a lot of little kids and parents I didn’t know, waiting for the “polio vaccine” (whatever that was), straining to hear more, and worrying about what was going to happen when I got to the head of the line. I also remember my mother saying “it’s alright… this may hurt you for a minute but it will keep you safe.” And she was right.

In these intervening years, I have learned a lot about scientific advances involving the human body. The use of RhoGam for Rh-negative pregnant mothers, Cancer treatments, ‘clot busters’, vaccines to protect our children from meningitis, a whole plethora of ways have been developed to keep us healthy and safe. Are they perfect? No, but overall, they have kept us living healthier and longer.

Although flu vaccines were first released to U.S civilians in 1945, we had more to learn about the changing nature of viruses during the flu pandemics of 1957-1958, and again in 1968. Scientists learned how to make flu vaccines more effective, and proved their usefulness. Medicare added the cost of the flu vaccine as a benefit (under Part B) in 1993. And there have been no more flu pandemics since then (knock on wood).

So if the flu vaccine is safe, effective, and even cost-free for most, why doesn’t everyone get one? After all, isn’t the recommendation for everyone over 6 months old to get a flu vaccination every year?

The number one response we hear year after year (and why it’s really an excuse): It’s “just the flu”.

No, it’s not “just” a viral disease – haven’t we learned that from Covid this year? Maybe everyone isn’t susceptible – but here are the results of clinical studies published in the last 5 years :

  • If it doesn’t make you completely immune to the virus, several studies have shown flu vaccines reduce the severity of illness.
  • Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease.
  • Vaccinating pregnant women helps protect them from flu illness and hospitalizations, and has been shown to help protect the baby from a flu infection for several months after birth before they can be immunized.
  • A 2017 study showed that flu vaccines can be life-saving for all children.

The second-place response (new in 2020): “I have to wear a mask anyway, so why bother with the flu vaccine?”

Because you won’t be wearing masks when your grandchildren or friends come to visit you on holidays, or when you want to resume your “normal” life (flu season lasts until May), and because it takes time for immunity to develop within you, so if you change your mind in February, it might be too late to help.

Most importantly – imagine your children’s distress if you did end up in the hospital … or worse. Too many of us have attended unexpected funerals this year – back to point one – it’s not “just the flu”.

Remember, there is no proven treatment to cure the flu, only preventative measures. Be smart (like our Mothers) – don’t miss a chance to protect yourself and your family. Get your flu shot!

by Vicki Soule – CEO – Treasure Coast Community Health, Inc. 

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